Stymied by the Supreme Court, Biden wants voters to have the final say on his agenda

People demonstrate outside the Supreme Court on June 30 in Washington. (AP Photo/Jacquelyn Martin, File)

President Joe Biden speaks during an event about high speed internet infrastructure, in the East Room of the White House, Monday, June 26, 2023, in Washington. (AP Photo/Evan Vucci)

WASHINGTON — After major blows to his agenda by the Supreme Court, President Joe Biden is intent on making sure voters will have the final say.

When the court’s conservative majority effectively killed his plan to cancel or reduce federal student loan debts for millions of people, Biden said, “Republicans snatched away the hope that they were given.” When the justices ended race-based affirmative action in college admissions, he said, “This is not a normal court.” When they overturned Roe v. Wade and a national right to abortion last year, the president said, “Voters need to make their voices heard.”

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As Biden heads into the 2024 election, he is running not only against the Republicans who control one-half of Congress but also against the conservative bloc that dominates the nation’s highest court. It’s a subtle but significant shift in approach toward the Supreme Court, treating it more like a political entity even as Biden stops short of calling for an overhaul.

That shift is becoming apparent in everything from the White House’s messaging to its legal strategy.

“The president respects the court’s authority, but if its judgments are going to be political and there are members of the court who are saying that, he owes it to voters to make it clear what his positions are and what he’s doing to address it,” said Ron Klain, his former chief of staff.

“Many members of the current court testified that Roe is settled law and still overturned it,” he added, referring to the court’s ruling on abortion. “That has its consequences.”

Biden, who once led the Senate Judiciary Committee, is focusing on the politicization of the court as a way to encourage voters to back him. Yet he has not embraced any effort to make big changes to the court.

Instead, Biden is increasingly vocal about his belief that the court is abandoning mainstream constitutional interpretation. He tells voters they need more Democrats in Congress and a Democrat in the White House to counter the impact of the conservative-leaning court.

Biden has won his share of cases, including on immigration, before a court where conservatives hold a 6-3 majority. But the student loan defeat capped a term when justices imposed significant roadblocks.

White House officials say Biden is keen to explore other ways to pursue the same priorities and explain to the American people about the obstacles.

“There’s only upside in running against the court as an institution because the court is doing things that are wildly unpopular and they’re preventing the president from implementing his agenda,” said Chris Kang, chief counsel of the progressive group Demand Justice and a onetime deputy counsel to President Barack Obama.

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