SCOTUS is ramping up oppression in ‘the land of the free’

Bending rules to favour the already privileged is nothing new in the US, but the Supreme Court is making it worse.

FILE PHOTO: The U.S. Supreme Court building is seen in Washington, U.S., June 26, 2022. REUTERS/Elizabeth Frantz/File Photo
The building of the Supreme Court of the United States (SCOTUS) is seen in Washington, DC on June 26, 2022 [File: Reuters/Elizabeth Frantz]

It is that time of year again: when the United States Supreme Court ruins everyone’s summer with its sociopathic rulings.

Last summer, on June 24, the top judicial body overturned Roe v Wade, the landmark ruling that legalised abortion nationwide in 1973. Hardest hit by the decision were poor women of colour, such being the institutionalised inequality that prevails in the world’s self-appointed paragon of justice.

The day prior to the demise of US abortion rights, the Supreme Court enshrined the right to carry a gun outside the home. This came almost one month after a gunman massacred 19 students and two teachers at Robb Elementary School in Uvalde, Texas.

Now in 2023, the court has proven equally committed to eroding the potential for wellbeing among significant sectors of the US population.

Take the recent ruling that bans colleges from considering race as a factor in admissions, a reversal of affirmative action policies that were meant to fuel diversity in schools and to atone, to some extent, for the country’s lengthy history of racialised socioeconomic oppression.

In the court’s view, apparently, offering Black and Latino students a mirage of equal opportunity constitutes discrimination against whites and Asian-Americans – which makes about as much sense as saying wheelchair ramps discriminate against non-disabled people or that offering classes of English as a second language discriminates against native English speakers.

Anyway, you cannot sustain the tyranny of an elite minority if you start giving everyone a fair chance at everything.

In another recent education-related stunt, the Supreme Court struck down President Joe Biden’s student loan forgiveness plan, which he had magnanimously put forth after having assisted in creating the student debt crisis in the first place. The ruling affects well over 40 million people in the US.

The Supreme Court case in question, Biden v Nebraska, hinged on the argument that the Missouri Higher Education Loan Authority (MOHELA) – and by extension the state of Missouri – would suffer revenue losses in the event of debt cancellation. However, as was revealed back in May in a collaborative exposé by the Roosevelt Institute and the Debt Collective, the first debtors’ union in the US, MOHELA’s revenues were projected to increase even if the Biden plan had gone through.

This information was confirmed in internal MOHELA documents. And yet reality matters little when the future of the plutocracy is at stake.

As journalist Julia Rock notes in an article for Jacobin magazine, the conservative officials who have been agitating against student debt relief possess “deep ties to the dark money network that helped construct the Supreme Court’s current 6-3 conservative supermajority”. According to a series of investigations by media outlets ProPublica and Lever, this network is led by Leonard Leo, judicial adviser to former US President Donald Trump.

By financially incentivising hardline right-wing positions, the billion-dollar dark money industry has basically spawned the most conservative Supreme Court in nearly a century.

And the shameless corruption that passes for “democracy” in the US only becomes all the more nauseating in the context of the battle over student debt, the upshot of which is that it is totally fine to spend astronomical sums of money just to ensure that the non-rich get no economic relief whatsoever.

Dark money also had a hand in the Supreme Court’s anti-LGBTQ ruling on June 30, which to add insult to injury, took place on the final day of Pride Month. In this case, the court sided on behalf of Lorie Smith, an evangelical Christian web designer in Colorado who is opposed to her state’s anti-discrimination law and the possibility that she might someday be asked to create a website for a same-sex marriage.

It is on such occasions that one feels compelled to ask whether the Supreme Court really has nothing else to do with its time and could perhaps take on local parking violations as well.

But the outcome of the Smith case is far from a joking matter, setting as it does a dangerous precedent by invalidating nondiscrimination laws. If the Supreme Court has decided it is now selectively fine for businesses to discriminate based on sexual orientation, how do you ever redraw that line – or any other?

Smith’s lawyer Kristen Waggoner cast the matter of the hypothetical request for a same-sex wedding website as a violation of First Amendment free speech protections in the US Constitution. In a statement on June 30, Waggoner praised the Supreme Court for having “reaffirmed that the government can’t force Americans to say things they don’t believe”.

It is any rational person’s guess, of course, how free speech factors into the arrangement at all. Can racist business owners also claim free speech rights and refuse to serve Black people or Muslims?

Biden, for his part, has denounced the current Supreme Court as “not a normal court” – although the oppression of marginalised groups would seem to be pretty much business as usual in the so-called “land of the free”.

Critiques aside, Biden shot down the option of subjecting the judicial body to some sort of corrective expansion in an interview with MSNBC: “I think if we start the process of trying to expand the court, we’re going to politicise it maybe forever in a way that is not healthy.”

Indeed, it would be most unhealthy to politicise politics.

In the meantime, the latest spate of Supreme Court rulings is making the US a very unhealthy place to live – for a whole lot of people.

The views expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect Al Jazeera’s editorial stance.