In a significant development, the Supreme Court has struck down President Biden’s student loan forgiveness plan, effectively derailing a program that aimed to provide relief of up to $20,000 to struggling borrowers with outstanding debt.
The court’s decision, led by a 6-3 conservative majority, was seen as a significant setback for the Biden administration and is expected to have far-reaching implications for the upcoming 2024 presidential race. Biden may attempt to rally liberals by portraying the conservative court as obstructing his efforts to provide debt relief to voters. On the other hand, Republicans are celebrating the ruling as a defeat for what they deemed a “bailout” plan.
The program, challenged by Republican-led states and conservatives, was criticized for allegedly being an unlawful endeavor to erase approximately $430 billion of federal student loan debt under the pretext of the pandemic.
Chief Justice John Roberts, writing on behalf of the majority, asserted that the Biden administration, along with the Secretary of Education, had effectively rewritten the law.
Roberts argued, “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 White House had relied on the authority granted by the HEROES Act to waive the debt, but Roberts insisted that direct authorization from Congress was necessary for such a program.
He emphasized, “The question here is not whether something should be done; it is who has the authority to do it.”
In a dissenting opinion, the liberal justices accused the majority of making politically motivated decisions. Justice Elena Kagan voiced her concern that the court was encroaching on the domain of Congress and the Executive Branch, infringing on their role in making crucial policy decisions that affect millions of Americans.
As a result of the court’s ruling, borrowers who were targeted by Biden’s plan will receive no relief, and the suspended monthly payment obligations, which were put on hold during the Covid-19 pandemic, will resume starting in October.
The White House reported that before a lower court in Texas issued a nationwide injunction in November, it had received 26 million applications to the program, with 16 million of them already approved for relief.
The proposed plan aimed to assist individuals earning less than $125,000 per year (or households earning less than $250,000) in either 2020 or 2021. Supporters argued that the relief program was necessary to prevent a surge in loan defaults and delinquencies among those impacted by Covid-19 and burdened with outstanding loans.
In another significant decision, the Court ruled that Christian business owners can refuse service to LGBTQ customers by siding with a web designer in Colorado who cited religious objections in declining to create websites for same-sex weddings. The 6-3 decision, written by Justice Neil Gorsuch and supported by Chief Justice John Roberts, along with Justices Samuel Alito, Amy Coney Barrett, Brett Kavanaugh, and Clarence Thomas, marks a setback for LGBTQ protections.
The court’s decision, rooted in free speech principles, has implications for state public accommodation laws that apply to businesses selling “expressive” goods. Critics fear that the current court may be laying the groundwork to overturn the landmark 2015 case that legalized same-sex marriage nationwide.
Gorsuch argued that the First Amendment safeguards individuals’ freedom of thought and expression, stating that Colorado sought to undermine this fundamental promise. He emphasized that various forms of speech, including online communication, are protected by the First Amendment’s provisions.
In dissent, Justice Sonia Sotomayor voiced concern that the ruling would undermine the government’s compelling interest in ensuring equal access to public commerce for all Americans. She asserted that the decision granted a business the constitutional right to refuse service to a protected class, marking a troubling departure from precedent.
Sotomayor characterized the ruling as a “sad day in American constitutional law and the lives of LGBT people,” suggesting that it would perpetuate second-class status and stigmatic harm. She warned that the decision’s logic could extend beyond discrimination based on sexual orientation or gender identity, potentially enabling exclusion based on race or other factors.
The Supreme Court’s verdict in this case will have far-reaching consequences for the balance between free speech and LGBTQ rights, shaping the landscape of future legal battles and discussions on the boundaries of religious freedom and equality.