Supreme Court Opens for Controversy

The United States Supreme Court began a new term at the beginning of October with several controversial cases on the docket and its first Black woman to serve on the bench, Associate Justice Ketanji Brown Jackson (she/her).
Following a landmark term that overturned the abortion rights guaranteed for decades by the Roe v. Wade decision, the nation’s highest court has several cases before it that may stir the country once again. This term, the Court will hear cases involving affirmative action, LGBTQ equality, and freedom of speech. The Court will also tackle a variety of other issues, including copyright law, food production law, Indigenous peoples’ rights, and the states’ power regarding federal election laws. With a 6-3 conservative supermajority on the Court, there is the potential for major changes that affect the lives of millions of Americans.
According to Cornell’s Legal Information Institute (LII), affirmative action is a practice designed to prevent discrimination and remedy the effects of historical discrimination. The LII identifies the modern origins of the practice with President JFK’s Executive Order 10925 (1961), which mandated that government contractors take affirmative action to ensure employees are treated “without regard to their race, creed, color, or national origin.” Affirmative action has been upheld by the Supreme Court despite legal challenges, with the Court finding it constitutional under the Civil Rights Act of 1964. Affirmative action was later expanded to include admission policies for colleges and universities. The Supreme Court ruled in favor of affirmative action in the 2003 case Grutter v. Bollinger, ruling that the University of Michigan Law School could consider race in its applicants. This term, the Court will hear two cases against the practice brought by the organization Students for Fair Admission (SFFA). The first, SFFA v. Harvard, alleges that Harvard University discriminates against Asian applicants. The other case, SFFA v. University of North Carolina, alleges that the University of North Carolina’s admissions policy violates the Fourteenth Amendment. The Fourteenth Amendment grants all U.S. citizens “equal protection of the laws.”
LGBTQ rights are also on the line in Creative v. Elenis. The court will decide whether the First Amendment right to freedom of speech allows private businesses to refuse patrons based on their sexual orientation. The case involves a Colorado website designer, Lorie Smith, who wanted to put a notice on her website that she would not design wedding sites for same gender couples because of her Christian faith. Smith is challenging Colorado’s anti-discrimination laws. The Court’s decision will determine if the state can compel businesses to serve LGBTQ clients.
While the conservative justices hold a supermajority gained during appointments made by former President Donald Trump (he/him), it appears that the Court is poised to rule against affirmative action and the LGBTQ community. However, newly appointed Justice Ketanji Brown Jackson has shown she is not afraid to stand up to her colleagues. Politico reports that as the Court heard arguments for the case Sackett v. EPA, Jackson spoke within the first eight minutes of the hearing, monopolized questioning, and extended the planned period of arguments by an hour. The Court is set to publish its decisions next spring.
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