The Supreme Court has just handed down its most important decisions of the year. Here’s what you need to know.

WASHINGTON (AP) — The Supreme Court just finished handing down its biggest rulings of the term, killing President Joe Biden’s $400 billion plan to cancel or reduce federal student loan debt, ending affirmative action in higher education and making a major decision that impacts gay rights. Last week’s rulings cap a tenure that began in October in which the justices also considered big questions about voting rights and religion.

The tribunal will then reconvene in the fall to resume hearings. Here are a few things to know about the Supreme Court’s last term:


The court has a solid conservative majority of six justices, but ultimately handed down rulings in which the more conservative position did not win. This surprised some court observers.

In four major cases, conservative and liberal justices have joined in rejecting the most aggressive legal arguments made by conservative state lawmakers and advocacy groups. These included rulings on voting, a Native American child welfare law and immigration policy from the Biden administration.

On voting rights, for example, the justices rejected a Republican-led effort to weaken a landmark voting rights law. Instead, they ruled in favor of black voters in Alabama in a congressional redistricting case. The state, where more than one in four voters are black, will now have to redesign its congressional districts in a way that gives more power to black voters. The decision was 5-4 with Chief Justice John Roberts and Justice Brett Kavanaugh joining the court’s three liberals.

Separately, while judges last year overruled Roe v Wade and allowed states to ban abortion, the court in April rejected a conservative-led effort to have a drug used in the method of abortion removed from the market. most common abortion. Judges have allowed the drug, mifepristone, to remain on the market for the time being while a trial continues.


Although there were some surprises among the judges’ decisions, the conservatives still won big. On affirmative action, they won a long-desired victory. While the court had narrowly upheld race-conscious college admissions programs for the past 20 years, including as recently as 2016, a conservative wing of the court bolstered by three government appointees former President Donald Trump called off practice 6-3.

Similarly, on student loans, the court split 6-3 on ideological criteria to kill a signature Biden administration program. Other major decisions where the Conservatives won included a 5-4 ruling that severely limited the federal government’s authority to control water pollution.


Chief Justice John Roberts led the court’s most important decisions, writing majority opinions on student loans, affirmative action, and voting cases in North Carolina and Alabama. Last year, the five Tories to Roberts’ right formed majorities to sometimes act more aggressively than the Chief Justice wanted, including overturning Roe v. Wade without his vote. Roberts’ narrower position in the case would have instead reduced the right to abortion.

As leader, Roberts decides who writes the majority opinion in cases where he agrees. This time, he took credit for those major opinions, making sure his hand ruled the field.


The court’s newest judge also ended up being the most vocal. Jackson began her first term on the court in October and it was clear from the start that she would actively participate in the arguments. During the term’s 59 arguments, she spoke some 78,800 words, far more than the second most talkative judge, according to research by Adam Feldman and Jake Truscott.

Like his colleagues, Jackson has written about half a dozen majority opinions this quarter. Her First of all intervened in a state-to-state dispute over unclaimed money, while perhaps its most significant decision was a 7-2 decision in which the court declined to broadly limit the right to sue government employees. She’s also authored a number of dissents, including one in Affirmative Action in which Jackson, the court’s first black woman, accused her co-workers in the majority of “recklessness in letting them eat cake.” “.


Since joining the court in 2017, Justice Neil Gorsuch has become a champion of Indigenous rights, at times breaking with his conservative colleagues on Indigenous issues. In 2020, for example, he authored a 5-4 decision in which the court ruled that much of eastern Oklahoma remained a Native American reservation.

This term, he wrote with passion in two cases of indigenous rights. He opposed a ruling against the Navajo Nation in a dispute involving water from the drought-stricken Colorado River. And while he was in the majority in the court case over India’s Child Welfare Act, he nevertheless wrote separately. The notice was 34 pages. Gorsuch wrote 38.


High-profile issues weren’t the only reason the Supreme Court was in the news this quarter. A series of stories have questioned the ethical practices of judges, including Justice Clarence Thomas but also Justice Samuel Alito. Investigative news site ProPublica detailed in a series of outlets lavish trips and other gifts given to Thomas by Republican megadonor Harlan Crow.

Both Thomas and Alito strongly denied doing anything wrong. But the stories have led to calls from Democrats in Congress in particular for reforms and more transparency. Republicans have made it clear they oppose the effort. In May, Roberts said without elaborating that the court could do more to “adhere to the highest standards” of ethical conduct.


Associated Press reporter Mark Sherman contributed to this report.

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