Washington D.C. – The Supreme Court’s latest term, in which far-right justices dealt devastating blows to affirmative action, LGBTQ+ rights, and the economic futures of millions of student borrowers, underscores the need to stem the tide of harm by confirming more fair-minded judges to lower courts, according to a new People For the American Way report, “Turning Back the Clock: Supreme Court’s 2022-23 Term Upends Decades of Progress.” The report discusses key cases in the latest term and also points out that in the vast majority of cases, millions of Americans rely on rulings of lower courts to uphold their rights. With a Supreme Court captured by the Far Right, this makes it all the more important that the Senate continue to move decisively to confirm President Biden’s lower-court nominees.
“Our justice system is in trouble if we don’t move to fill as many lower-court vacancies as possible with quality nominees, as soon as possible,” said Svante Myrick, president of People For the American Way. “The Supreme Court has been captured by corporations and the Far Right, and in spite of a couple of surprisingly favorable rulings this term, the overall picture is grim. It will take time to see change on the Supreme Court. In the meantime, one of the most important things we can do is to ensure we get fair-minded judges on lower courts where most cases are decided and where most Americans go to protect their rights.”
“The Supreme Court’s rulings undermining decades of progress in affirmative action, LGBTQ+ rights and more are proof that this Court is continuing its relentless move not just to the right but backward to a worse period in our history,” said Paul Gordon, senior legislative counsel and a co-author of the report. “The Far Right now has the Court they spent millions of dollars to capture. The current majority’s agenda harms people of color, women, LGBTQ+ people, and others. They are unraveling rights and protections that have been in place for decades. It’s hard to overstate how damaging these rulings will be to individuals’ lives.”
“While this term’s harmful rulings show us how important it is to work toward Supreme Court reform, we also need to focus on protecting rights as much as possible throughout the justice system. And that means filling lower court seats with judges who understand courts are there to protect all of us, not just the powerful and privileged,” said Elliot Mincberg, senior fellow and a co-author of the report. “This Supreme Court term gave us lots of bad news, but the good news is that the Biden administration along with Senate Majority Leader Schumer and Judiciary Committee Chair Durbin have been making great progress confirming outstanding judges to federal court vacancies. This progress needs to continue so that every available seat is filled by a judge with a sincere commitment to civil rights and equal justice.”
The report covers important rulings in several areas, including the following:
- Affirmative Action: In a 6-3 ruling, the Supreme Court struck down race-based affirmative action efforts in higher education as violating the Constitution’s Equal Protection Clause and the Civil Rights Act. The ruling undermines 40 years of precedent and comes at a significant cost to the communities whom those programs have long helped, as well as society at large.
- LGBTQ+ Equality: In a 6-3 decision on the last day of its 2022-23 term, the far-right Supreme Court majority continued its weaponization and misuse of the First Amendment to permit discrimination. The majority ruled that businesses can deny web design services to LGBTQ+ couples’ weddings despite a state law prohibiting such discrimination in public accommodations, effectively granting a license to discriminate.
- Fair Elections and the Right to Vote: In a surprising victory for democracy, the Supreme Court turned aside a dangerous fringe constitutional theory, the “independent state legislature theory,” that would have let far-right state legislatures rig presidential and congressional elections in violation of their own state constitutions. The Court also upheld the Voting Rights Act and protected the voting rights of Black Americans from a vote-dilution scheme in Alabama. Unfortunately, despite these victories, the current Court majority still poses a threat to our right to vote.
- Student Loan Debt: In a 6-3 ruling, the Supreme Court’s far-right majority struck down the Biden administration’s forgiveness of student debt for lower-income borrowers. The administration had granted this debt relief in response to the COVID-19 national emergency. The Court’s decision reimposed enormous debt on millions of people.
The report also covers rulings in the areas of religious accommodations for workers, the environment, labor unions, Native American rights, immigrants’ rights and medical safety. And it flags the Court’s decision to hear several cases in its next term that address critically important issues including gun violence, racial gerrymandering, and combating illegal discrimination.
About People For the American Way
People For the American Way, a national progressive advocacy organization, inspires and mobilizes community and cultural leaders to advance Truth, Justice and the American Way. We convene courageous Americans, produce compelling media and organize campaigns to defend our democracy from authoritarian threats and advance America’s promise that everyone will enjoy freedom, safety and a vote that counts. Learn more: http://www.pfaw.org