The rulings came one after the other over two days, barely allowing for reaction to settle in across the nation as the Supreme Court finished its term with four far-reaching decisions. It started notably with Groff v. DeJoy, which was decided in a 9-0 vote from the justices. The other decisions landed along conservative-liberal lines and drew strong reactions from nearly every seat of power in government, academia and in the workplace.

Here then is a summary of what occurred and what you might have missed. Click the links for a review of the specific articles run in the Deseret News, including links to commentary from Taylor Randall, the president of the University of Utah on affirmative action and gaining admittance to the university, and Brett G. Scharffs, the Rex E. Lee Chair and a professor of law at the J. Reuben Clark Law School, in the case of a web designer that much of the media cast as a religion v. LGBTQ rights, but which is actually a free speech case.

Here then are the cases and decisions.

The mail carrier and the Sabbath

The conflict started with an Amazon contract.

Before it, Gerald Groff had been happy with his work as a rural mail carrier and happy to be able to have Sundays off. After it, he still enjoyed the work, but he faced increasing pressure to take shifts on his Sabbath and thereby violate his religious beliefs.

Groff, who identifies as an evangelical Christian, initially solved the problem by transferring to an even more rural post office, one that didn’t yet need to deliver on Sundays. But Amazon’s demands eventually found him there, and he ultimately resigned from his position after a sustained battle with supervisors over his religious accommodation request.

On Thursday the Supreme Court issued its unanimous opinion siding with the mail carrier in Groff v. DeJoy. The justices said employers cannot deny religious accommodation requests — including requests to avoid working on the Sabbath — unless granting them would impose a substantial burden.

“An employer must show that the burden of granting an accommodation would result in substantial increased costs in relation to the conduct of its particular business,” wrote Justice Samuel Alito in the majority unanimous opinion.

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Affirmative action and higher education

The Supreme Court Thursday released a major ruling on affirmative action, rejecting the use of race in college admissions.

The decision struck down race-conscious policies in two separate cases — Students for Fair Admissions v. President and Fellows of Harvard College in a 6-2 ruling, and Students for Fair Admissions v. University of North Carolina in a 6-3 ruling.

Chief Justice John Roberts wrote the majority opinion in both decisions, with justices Clarence Thomas, Samuel Alito, Neil Gorsuch, Brett Kavanaugh and Amy Coney Barrett in agreement. Justice Ketanji Brown Jackson recused herself from the Harvard case because of her affiliation with the school.

“The Harvard and UNC admissions programs cannot be reconciled with the guarantees of the Equal Protection Clause,” Roberts wrote. “Both programs lack sufficiently focused and measurable objectives warranting the use of race, unavoidably employ race in a negative manner, involve racial stereotyping, and lack meaningful end points. We have never permitted admissions programs to work in that way, and we will not do so today.”

Noteworthy was this statement from the majority: Universities can take into consideration “an applicant’s discussion of how race affected his or her life, be it through discrimination, inspiration, or otherwise,” the opinion stated.

Brown Jackson wrote a dissenting opinion, saying that the Supreme Court’s decision will not end racism. “The best that can be said of the majority’s perspective is that it proceeds (ostrich-like) from the hope that preventing consideration of race will end racism,” she wrote. “But if that is its motivation, the majority proceeds in vain.”

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 The web designer and free speech

The Supreme Court on Friday offered significant new protections to business owners, ruling that the First Amendment protects them from sharing messages that go against their own beliefs.

The 6-3 decision in favor of a Colorado web designer, Lorie Smith, expands the possibility of receiving exemptions from public accommodations laws, which aim to end discrimination against various groups, including the LGBTQ community. In court filings Smith “filed a lawsuit seeking an injunction to prevent the State from forcing her to create websites celebrating marriages that defy her belief that marriage should be reserved to unions between one man and one woman.”

Justices in the majority said that, while important, civil rights laws cannot be used to trample free speech rights. The case is 303 Creative v. Elenis.

“The First Amendment envisions the United States as a rich and complex place where all persons are free to think and speak as they wish, not as the government demands,” wrote Justice Neil Gorsuch in the majority opinion.

Justice Sonia Sotomayor dissented strongly: “Today, the Court, for the first time in its history, grants a business open to the public a constitutional right to refuse to serve members of a protected class. ... That is wrong. Profoundly wrong,” she wrote.

Scharffs, the Rex E. Lee Chair and BYU law professor, said the decision protects speech from all people: “Imagine you are a gay website designer and you’re asked to design a website for a group advocating against same-sex marriage? If you refused, Friday’s Supreme Court decision in 303 Creative v. Elenis protects you against a zealous state official who might want to prosecute you for discrimination on the basis of sex or religion.

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Students and forgiveness of student loans

The Biden administration’s initiative to partially relieve billions of dollars of federal student loan debt is unconstitutional, the Supreme Court ruled in a 6-3 decision Friday.

The decision in Biden v. Nebraska has far-reaching consequences for some 44 million Americans who owe a combined $1.7 trillion for their education, according to the Annie E. Casey Foundation.

Stu­dent loans are one of the high­est sources of debt for Amer­i­cans, sec­ond only to mortgages. The Biden administration plan would have wiped out more than $400 billion in student loan debt.

Chief Justice John Roberts, for the majority, wrote: “The Secretary’s comprehensive debt cancellation plan cannot fairly be called a waiver — it not only nullifies existing provisions, but augments and expands them dramatically.”

“However broad the meaning of ‘waive or modify,’ that language cannot authorize the kind of exhaustive rewriting of the statute that has taken place here,” the opinion stated.

Biden, in a statement, vowed, “This fight is not over.” Delivering remarks at the White House late Friday afternoon, Biden announced a different path to provide federal student loan debt relief, an approach that would rely on the Higher Education Act of 1965.

Justice Elena Kagan, in a dissenting opinion, wrote that the Supreme Court “acts as though it is an arbiter of political and policy disputes, rather than of cases and controversies.”

Kagan wrote that the Supreme Court “once again” substituted “itself for Congress and the executive branch — and the hundreds of millions of people they represent — in making this nation’s most important, as well as most contested, policy decisions.”

Sen. Mike Lee, R-Utah, said the decision was a “clear victory over executive overreach, affirming that President Biden’s student loan scheme was fundamentally unconstitutional.”

Sen. Mitt Romney, R-Utah, said, “Instead of working toward real bipartisan solutions to lower higher education costs, the Biden administration chose a partisan approach that — as the Supreme Court has ruled today — was outside the bounds of its authority and ultimately unsuccessful in supporting our students.”

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