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Tuesday, July 16, 2024

More major decisions coming before the Supreme Court adjourns for the Summer

Several decisions are expected Friday after a busy week from the Court.
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Supreme Court building on Capitol Hill in Washington. (AP Photo/Patrick Semansky)

The Supreme Court is expected to announce major decisions Friday on President Joe Biden’s student loan forgiveness program and a case that impacts gay rights. It’s the court’s final day before the justices go on their summer break.

Already this week the justices have released important decisions on other issues including affirmative action, voting rights and religious rights. The court’s final opinions tend to be on some of the most contentious issues because writing those decisions often takes the longest.

Here’s a look at the decisions the justices issued this week and those left to come:

STUDENT LOANS
The justices have yet to decide the fate of President Joe Biden’s plan to wipe away or reduce student loans held by millions of Americans. When the court heard arguments in the case in February, the plan didn’t seem likely to survive, though it’s possible the justices could decide the challengers lacked the right to sue and the plan can still go forward.

Biden had proposed erasing $10,000 in federal student loan debt for those with incomes below $125,000 a year, or households that earn less than $250,000. He also wanted to cancel an additional $10,000 for those who received federal Pell Grants to attend college. The administration has said millions of borrowers would benefit from the program.

Regardless of what happens at the high court, loan payments that have been on hold since the start of the coronavirus pandemic three years ago will resume this summer.

GAY RIGHTS
A clash of gay rights and religious rights is also still to be decided by the court. The case involves a Christian graphic artist from Colorado who wants to begin designing wedding websites but objects to making wedding websites for same-sex couples.

State law requires businesses that are open to the public to provide services to all customers, but the designer, Lorie Smith, says the law violates her free speech rights. She says ruling against her would force artists — from painters and photographers to writers and musicians — to do work that is against their beliefs. Her opponents, meanwhile, say that if she wins, a range of businesses will be able to discriminate, refusing to serve Black, Jewish or Muslim customers, interracial or interfaith couples or immigrants.

During arguments in the case in December, the court’s conservative majority sounded sympathetic to Smith’s arguments, and religious plaintiffs have in recent years won a series of victories at the high court.

AFFIRMATIVE ACTION
The justices on Thursday struck down affirmative action in college admissions, declaring race cannot be a factor and forcing institutions of higher education to look for new ways to achieve diverse student bodies.

Previously, the Supreme Court had allowed the use of race in admissions in decisions reaching back to 1978. And it had had twice upheld race-conscious college admissions programs in the past 20 years, including as recently as 2016.

Now, however, with a six-justice conservative majority, the justices overturned admissions plans at Harvard and the University of North Carolina, the nation’s oldest private and public colleges, respectively.

Chief Justice John Roberts said that for too long universities have “concluded, wrongly, that the touchstone of an individual’s identity is not challenges bested, skills built, or lessons learned but the color of their skin. Our constitutional history does not tolerate that choice.”

RELIGIOUS RIGHTS
The Supreme Court on Thursday used the case of a Christian mail carrier who didn’t want to work Sundays to solidify protections for workers who ask for religious accommodations.

In a unanimous decision the justices made clear that workers who ask for accommodations, such as taking the Sabbath off, should get them unless their employers show doing so would result in “substantial increased costs” to the business.

The court made clear that businesses must cite more than minor costs — so-called “de minimis” costs — to reject requests for religious accommodations at work. Unlike most cases before the court, both sides in the case had agreed businesses needed to show more.

The justices didn’t say whether the mail carrier should win his case, however. Instead, they sent the case back to lower courts for further review based on their decision.

VOTING
Earlier this week, on Tuesday, the justices ruled that state courts can act as a check on their legislatures in redistricting and other issues affecting federal elections, rejecting arguments by North Carolina Republicans that could have transformed contests for Congress and president.

The justices by a 6-3 vote upheld a decision by North Carolina’s top court that struck down a congressional districting plan as excessively partisan under state law.

Chief Justice John Roberts authored the majority opinion, stating that “state courts retain the authority to apply state constitutional restraints when legislatures act under the power conferred upon them by the Elections Clause. But federal courts must not abandon their own duty to exercise judicial review.”

The high court did, though, suggest there could be limits on state court efforts to police elections for Congress and president.

The practical effect of the decision in North Carolina is minimal in that the North Carolina Supreme Court, under a new Republican majority, already has undone its redistricting ruling.


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