In 370 days, Supreme Court conservatives dash decades of abortion and affirmative action precedents

July 1, 2023  -WASHINGTON (AP) — Overturning Roe v. Wade and eliminating affirmative action in higher education had been leading goals of the conservative legal movement for decades.

In a span of 370 days, a Supreme Court reshaped by three justices nominated by President Donald Trump made both a reality.

Last June, the court ended nationwide protections for abortion rights. This past week, the court’s conservative majority decided that race-conscious admissions programs at the oldest private and public colleges in the country, Harvard and the University of North Carolina, were unlawful.

Precedents that had stood since the 1970s were overturned, explicitly in the case of abortion and effectively in the affirmative action context.

“That is what is notable about this court. It’s making huge changes in highly salient areas in a very short period of time,” said Tara Leigh Grove, a law professor at the University of Texas.

As ethical questions swirled around the court and public trust in the institution had already dipped to a 50-year low, there were other consequential decisions in which the six conservatives prevailed.

They rejected the Biden administration’s $400 billion student loan forgiveness program and held that a Christian graphic artist can refuse on free speech grounds to design websites for same-sex couples, despite a Colorado law that bars discrimination based on sexual orientation and other characteristics.

The court, by a 5-4 vote, also sharply limited the federal government’s authority to police water pollution into certain wetlands, although all nine justices rejected the administration’s position.

Affirmative action was arguably the biggest constitutional decision of the year, and it showcased fiercely opposing opinions from the court’s two Black justices, Clarence Thomas and Ketanji Brown Jackson.

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