Constitutional law took center stage in many U.S. Supreme Court and the New Jersey Supreme Court cases decided in 2023.
At the nation’s highest Court, the six-member conservative majority continued its trend of issuing transformative decisions, most notably in its landmark decision effectively ending affirmative action.
The U.S. Supreme Court’s Most Significant Decisions of 2023
In Students for Fair Admissions v. Harvard College and SFFA v. University of North Carolina, the Supreme Court struck down the college admissions programs of Harvard University and the University of North Carolina. By a vote of 6-3, the justices held that the raced-based policies violated the Constitution’s Equal Protection Clause.
In reversing decades of precedent, the majority found that the admissions systems failed to comply with the Equal Protection Clause’s twin commands that race may never be used as a “negative” and that it may not operate as a stereotype. “College admissions are zero-sum. A benefit provided to some applicants but not to others necessarily advantages the former group at the expense of the latter,” Chief Justice John Roberts wrote.
The Supreme Court also addressed the intersection of LGBTQ rights and the First Amendment, with the Court’s conservative majority ruling in favor of free speech. A divided Court held in 303 Creative LLC v. Elenis that the First Amendment prohibited Colorado from forcing a website designer to create expressive designs speaking messages with which the designer disagrees.
“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,” Justice Neil Gorsuch wrote on behalf of the six-member majority.
The justices also took on several significant election cases.
In Moore v. Harper, the Court rejected the “independent state legislature theory,” which maintains that state legislatures have exclusive authority to regulate federal elections. “The Elections Clause does not insulate state legislatures from the ordinary exercise of state judicial review,” Chief Justice Roberts wrote, ensuring that state courts retain the authority to review election laws under state constitutions.
In the latest redistricting dispute to reach the Court, the justices found that Alabama had diluted the power of Black voters by drawing a congressional voting map with a single district in which they made up a majority. A sharply-divided Court also confirmed that the Voting Rights Act prohibits discriminatory effects, not just discriminatory intent.
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