Biden vs. Nebraska, 303 Creative LLC vs. Elenis, and, of course, Dobbs vs. Jackson are just a few of the new Supreme Court’s landmark decisions that have fundamentally changed the nation’s political landscape. To the dismay of progressives, SCOTUS has demonstrated an increasing willingness to strike down prior decisions rooted in judicial activism, in the name of a more originalist constitutional interpretation. This trend is one that many have criticized as undemocratic, as nine unelected officials are changing the livelihoods of all Americans. What these critics fail to realize, however, is that this is an example of our system working.
America is not a democracy. It is common knowledge that the original iteration of our nation was once a colony of the British Empire and, as a result of tyrannical rule, rebelled to gain independence. However, what is not common knowledge is that the tyranny America broke away from, was democratically supported. In the American colonies, there was not a majority that opposed King George III and the British Empire. After winning the Revolution, the Framers recognized the danger of a government where the will of the majority could oppress the rights of the minority, and thus constructed our system of checks and balances. James Madison brilliantly illustrated in Federalist 51 that “in the federal republic of the United States… the society itself will be broken into so many parts, interests, and classes of citizens, that the rights of individuals, or of the minority, will be in little danger from interested combinations of the majority.”
Protecting the rights of the minority from the tyranny of the majority is one of the most important, foundational American principles. Even if it is someone whom you do not agree with or respect personally, their constitutional rights to free speech and exercise of religion are protected by the law. Acknowledging such foundations, 303 Creative LLC vs. Elenis, then, was correctly decided. In the 2023 case, the Supreme Court held that the government cannot compel a business owner to engage in a practice that violates their religious beliefs as this constitutes compelled speech. While the Court drew heavy backlash from LGBTQ activists, who feared the rollback of LGBTQ rights, the US is a nation founded on religious freedom and freedom of practice. Would one support a law that required a Muslim restaurant to serve pork? Such coercion would be a clear violation of one’s religion and thus, one’s First Amendment rights. The same logic, then, should apply to Christian companies and their stances on same-sex marriage. While some may believe that Christian businesses should be open and welcoming to LGBTQ businesses, SCOTUS upheld the First Amendment by protecting the business owner’s First Amendment right to the free exercise of religion. The beauty of the First Amendment is that it protects not only practices that you agree with but also practices that you may vehemently disagree with. This is because the Framers saw how easily a government can become tyrannical when they can regulate speech, thus to eliminate this risk, the government cannot compel anyone to engage in speech, especially when it is contrary to their religion.
Dobbs vs. Jackson and Biden vs. Nebraska are a bit different, though. SCOTUS reversed its own precedent in Dobbs and overruled the President in Biden vs. Nebraska because Biden’s student loan forgiveness plan and Roe v. Wade’s holdings on abortion rights required an act of Congress. Separation of powers is another fundamental American principle, masterfully crafted by the Framers, as each branch serves a distinct and equally important responsibility. If the Supreme Court could routinely make laws like Congress, such a norm would fly in the face of our representative democracy. Policymaking was, however, exactly what the Supreme Court did originally in Roe v. Wade; despite never being elected to Congress, Chief Justice Earl Warren and other activist justices took on the role of Congress and wrote their own law legalizing abortion on a federal level. The recent Dobbs decision did not rule that a woman cannot get an abortion, but rather that until Congress legislates federally on the issue, reproductive policy should be left up to the states.
While an individual’s personal freedom is paramount and government intervention in one’s personal life is problematic, the Supreme Court must not bestow itself with legislative authority. For example, it would be extremely problematic to progressives and conservatives alike if the Supreme Court released a decision that made law the U.S. must build a wall on the southern border. That is the decision of Congress, not SCOTUS. The same principle applies in Biden vs. Nebraska. The President’s student loan forgiveness program was done by way of an executive order. The only problem is that only Congress can forgive debts as specified by 31 USC 1301 et seq and Article I, Section 7, Clause 7 of the U.S. Constitution; even then-Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi conceded such a limitation. If the president could substitute any act of Congress with an executive order, the nation would not need a legislative branch; all domestic policy would change at the drop of a hat with every new executive. Thus, the Court’s decision in Biden vs. Nebraska protects both progressives and conservatives from the unstable rule of the opposing ideology, as debate in Congress keeps policy-making moderate and gives the nation a sense of stability.
The Framers saw the catastrophe of vesting one institution, the monarchy in their time, with limitless power. As such, the Framers crafted our system of checks and balances to protect America from ever descending into tyranny. Today, with the highest court in the land issuing decisions that uphold foundational American principles, SCOTUS has returned to originalist interpretations that respect the Constitution. The Court today exemplifies that our system is slow, frustrating, and, to a certain extent, undemocratic—a perfect sign of our institutions operating as designed.
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