Ah, ha ha. I'm kidding. Absolutely no one on Earth found anything surprising in the two decisions the Court just announced, except perhaps that Gorsuch and not Alito delivered the First Amendment one. Both were 6-3 decisions with the Republicans on one side and the non-partisan justices on the other. Both removed protections for disadvantaged groups in favor of established groups. And both lend weight to the argument that the Court has gone so far to the right that they continue to cause instability in the law as no one knows how long these precedents will last.
Let's start with 303 Creative v Elenis, in which the Court ruled that a Colorado web designer did not have to create websites for gay weddings, on the philosophy that religiously-motivated anti-gay bigotry is protected under the First Amendment:
The decision also appeared to suggest that the rights of L.G.B.T.Q. people, including to same-sex marriage, are on more vulnerable legal footing, particularly when they are at odds with claims of religious freedom. At the same time, the ruling limited the ability of the governments to enforce anti-discrimination laws.
The designer, Lorie Smith, said her Christian faith requires her to turn away customers seeking wedding-related services to celebrate same-sex unions. She added that she intends to post a message saying the company’s policy is a product of her religious convictions.
A Colorado law forbids discrimination against gay people by businesses open to the public as well as statements announcing such discrimination. Ms. Smith, who has not begun the wedding business or posted the proposed statement for fear of running afoul of the law, sued to challenge it, saying it violated her rights to free speech and the free exercise of religion.
I actually might agree with the very narrow outcome of this specific case: I don't think someone should be forced to create something they morally oppose. That said, I fear, as do many others, that people will see this as license to scale back anti-discrimination measures against all marginalized groups. And this is why I think the case is going to be a problem for a generation. I'll read Gorsuch's opinion over the weekend, hoping that he resisted the urge to fill it with Federalist Society-approved obiter dicta. But I expect to see more litigation on anti-discrimination statutes as a result of the ruling. It's part of the Republican strategy to erode hard-won rights by creating fear and doubt in marginalized groups, and it's working.
The other ruling (Biden v Nebraska), also pitting the Republicans against everyone else in the free world, killed the President's program to waive about $405 billion in student debt that hundreds of thousands of low- and middle-income borrowers owed to the Federal Government. The Court found the thinnest of pretexts to allow the State of Missouri just enough standing to keep the case from evaporating entirely, and then rug-pulled all those people for whom $10,000 might be the difference between poverty and continued daily meals by saying the President exceeded authority granted him by Congress to "waive or modify" the loans:
The court has rejected the administration’s expansive arguments in the past. The court lifted a pandemic-era moratorium on rental evictions put in place by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. It threw out a coronavirus vaccination-or-testing mandate imposed on large businesses by the Occupational Safety and Health Administration. And in a ruling unrelated to the pandemic, it cited the “major questions” doctrine to limit the Environmental Protection Agency’s options for combating climate change.
The legal battles have left millions of student loan borrowers in limbo. More than half of eligible people had applied for the forgiveness program before it was halted by the courts, with the Education Department approving some 16 million applications.
Biden’s debt relief program has been a divisive issue on Capitol Hill. On June 7, Biden vetoed a Republican-led resolution to strike down the controversial program and restart loan payments for tens of millions of borrowers. The measure passed the Senate with the backing of Sens. Joe Manchin III (D-W.Va.), Jon Tester (D-Mont.) and Kyrsten Sinema (I-Ariz.). Despite Biden’s veto, the resolution shows the likely difficulty of getting any future debt relief plan through Congress.
This, like yesterday's affirmative action decision, shows the Republican majority gleefully rolling back all the things they have hated ever since Lyndon Johnson had the gall to give those people civil rights in 1964. They firmly believe in the ability of everyone born on second base to get a home run even if it means everyone else strikes out, because (and I'm really not making this up, if you dig into what these people have written) they deserve it. (Best Tweet of the day, from the ever-scathing New York Times Pitchbot: "Opinion | Without the burden of affirmative action, Harvard can finally become a true meritocracy—by Jared Kushner and Robert F. Kennedy Jr.")
The good news—in the most general sense as the 6-3 split will continue to be very bad news in specific for years—is that this kind of reactionary behavior by the right wing tends to flame out in a generation or so. It's the desperate clawing back of gains made by the lower orders to hold onto inherited privilege for just a little longer that happens when the old guard know they're on their way out. We've seen it in the US before, and in the UK, and in lots of other times and places.
Unfortunately, undoing the damage the revanchists cause hurts like hell. The next 10-15 years are going to suck for a lot of people.