1 of 3 | Several major U.S. Supreme Court 2023 cases impacting millions of people are yet to be decided as the end of the current court quickly approaches. Photo by Ken Cedeno/UPI | License Photo
June 23 (UPI) -- Several major case decisions are pending before the U.S. Supreme Court with potentially powerful impacts on immigration policy, student loan debt relief, LGBTQ rights, affirmative action on college admissions and whether state legislatures can change election law without state judicial review.
These case decisions will touch the lives of tens of millions of people across the United States as well as migrants seeking to be legally allowed into the country.
As the traditional end-of-June conclusion of the 2023 Supreme Court term quickly approaches, here's a look at the underlying issues to be decided in these pending cases.
The high court is set to deliver rulings on two cases concerning affirmative action in Students For Fair Admissions vs. President and Fellows of Harvard College and Students For Fair Admissions vs. University of North Carolina.
The Supreme Court has for decades upheld race-conscious university admissions policies since they were allowed in the Grutter vs. Bollinger U.S. Supreme Court 2003 decision.
In both cases, SFFA seeks to overturn the 2003 decision, alleging that Asian-Americans and White Americans are penalized by using race in admissions decisions.
In the Harvard case, the court will decide two essential questions. Whether or not to overrule Grutter vs. Bollinger, holding that higher education can't use race as a factor in admissions and whether Harvard is violating Title VI of the Civil Rights Act that bans race-based admissions.
Title VI bars race-based admissions that, if done by a public university would violate the Equal Protection Clause.
So the Supreme Court will decide whether Harvard is violating Title VI "by penalizing Asian-American applicants, engaging in racial balancing, overemphasizing race, and rejecting workable race-neutral alternatives?"
In court filings, SFFA argues that Harvard "automatically awards racial preferences to African Americans and Hispanics" while penalizing Whites and Asian Americans.
"Asian Americans are the main victims today," SFFA wrote in the court filing. "Asians have faced enormous racial discrimination in this country, from the Chinese Exclusion Act, to the internment of Japanese Americans, to modern scapegoating over COVID-19."
In a statement on the case, Harvard counters that the Supreme Court for 40 years has "established and repeatedly affirmed that race can be one of many factors considered in college admissions."
Harvard said that it has been under attack for years by "anti-affirmative action activist Edward Blum and his organization, Students for Fair Admissions (SFFA), in their attempt to challenge diversity and end the consideration of race in college admissions."
"The Supreme Court has twice cited Harvard's admission process as a model for how other colleges and universities can consider race consistent with the law and the Constitution. Harvard's qualified, limited use of race is entirely consistent with more than four decades of Supreme Court precedent, established in Bakke (1978), affirmed in Grutter (2003), and reaffirmed in Fisher I (2013) and Fisher II (2016)," Harvard said in its statement.
SFFA asserted that until this suit was brought Harvard "had never even attempted "serious, good faith consideration of workable race-neutral alternatives."
Biden Student Loan Debt Relief
Two lower courts issued stays against Biden's student debt relief program in two cases, sending the issue to the U.S. Supreme Court.
In Biden vs. Nebraska, the states of Nebraska, Missouri, Arkansas, Iowa, Kansas, and South Carolina want the Supreme Court to throw out the Biden administration's student-loan relief program. Millions of student loan borrowers will be affected.
The Supreme Court will decide two questions in that case. Whether the states have legal standing to challenge the debt relief and whether the debt relief plan exceeds the education secretary's legal authority.
In U.S. Department of Education vs. Brown, the plaintiffs are student loan borrowers Myra Brown and Alexander Taylor.
Brown is not eligible for any student debt relief because her student loan was with a commercial lender. Taylor was eligible for $10,000 in relief, but not for $20,000 since he didn't get a Pell Grant. They allege that the education secretary improperly promulgated the debt-relief plan without required notice and comment rulemaking.
They argue that they were deprived of an opportunity to argue "that their student loan debt should be forgiven too."
The states are challenging the legal authority of the Secretary of Education to issue up to $10,000 in student-loan relief to eligible borrowers with annual incomes under $125,000 or $250,000 for borrowers filing jointly and to give qualifying Pell Grant recipients up to $20,000 in debt relief.
Student loan programs with nearly 43 million borrowers are administered by the Education Department under Title IV of the Higher Education Act.
The Biden administration argues in court filings that the law and the subsequent HEROES Act passed in 2003 grant the department the right to grant student loan debt relief.
The Biden administration argued in the Supreme Court filing that in August 2022 the education secretary ended the across-the-board pause on student loan debt payments because the pandemic emergency was ending.
But the secretary also found that low-income borrowers were at a heightened risk of default due to continuing COVID-19 economic consequences and ordered the department to grant debt relief to them.
"This relief, the Secretary found, is necessary to ensure that delinquency and default rates among these borrowers would not spike above pre-pandemic levels," the court filing said.
LGBTQ Public Accommodation Rights
In 303 Creative LLC vs. Elenis, artist and website designer Lorie Smith said in court documents that she designs wedding websites promoting her understanding of marriage and planned to post a statement saying she can only "speak messages consistent with her faith."
Smith refused to provide her services to a same-sex couple and claims it is her right to refuse LGBTQ customers who want specific same-sex wedding website messaging.
If Smith wins, it could end equal treatment for LGBTQ people at businesses open to the public nationwide.
Smith said she doesn't refuse same-sex couples who want generic designs, but objects to creating specific artistic designs and statements celebrating same-sex marriage.
She is challenging the Colorado Anti-Discrimination Act which she said requires her to create custom websites for same-sex marriages. Smith asserts that the state law violates her First Amendment rights.
Cornell Law School professor Nelson Tebbe told UPI he believes the Supreme Court is likely to rule for the design company.
"The Court's decision in 303 Creative is almost certain to favor the website design company," Tebbe said in a statement to UPI. "Though the Court is likely to craft its decision narrowly limiting its protection to businesses that trade in 'speech itself' it is unclear how or whether sensible boundaries can be drawn around that category in the future."
Tebbe said if the court decision does include boundaries that narrow the impact, that can create confusion for businesses on the legalities involved.
"What kinds of businesses are in the speech business itself? Much of the work will be done in lower courts, at least at first, and their decisions are hard to predict and might vary by circuit," Tebbe said.
The Supreme Court is asked to decide whether a public accommodation law "to compel an artist to speak or stay silent, contrary to the artist's sincerely held religious beliefs, violates the Free Speech or Free Exercise Clauses of the First Amendment."
A second question at issue in the case is whether Employment Division vs. Smith, a 1990 Supreme Court ruling upholding the Colorado law, should be overruled.
LGBTQ public accommodation rights are at stake versus individual business owners' religious and free speech rights.
Independent State Legislature Doctrine
At issue in Moore vs. Harper is a question of whether a state's judicial branch can nullify election regulations passed by state legislatures. The case was brought by North Carolina House Speaker Timothy K. Moore and seeks to establish state legislative supremacy over legal questions surrounding election regulations.
At stake is whether a state legislature has complete independence for court-proof power at the state level to assert total control over election regulations.
Moore argues in court filings that the Constitution provides that state legislatures and not state judges "bear primary responsibility for setting election rules."
Moore challenges the ability of state courts to overrule gerrymandered political maps, maintaining that legislatures are the final unilateral arbiters of state election laws, not state courts.
The case stems from the North Carolina State Supreme Court ruling in 2022 that political maps drawn by state legislative Republicans violated the state constitution.
If the U.S. Supreme Court rules for Moore, it would dramatically reshape how federal elections are conducted state by state.
In March 2022 the U.S. Supreme Court allowed North Carolina political maps re-drawn by the state courts there. Three Justices - Alito, Thomas and Gorsuch - dissented from that ruling, suggesting they might be sympathetic to Moore's arguments in the current case.
In the United States vs. Texas, the states of Texas and Louisiana are challenging guidelines issued by the Secretary of Homeland Security on enforcement of civil immigration law.
Questions to be decided by the U.S. Supreme Court are whether the states have legal standing to challenge the guidelines and whether the guidelines violate the Administrative Procedure Act.
A federal court in the Southern District of Texas agreed that Texas had legal standing because the state would have to spend more money on law enforcement and social services. The court vacated the guidelines nationwide, agreeing with Texas that the Administrative Procedure Act was violated.
Cornell Law School Professor Steve Yale-Loehr told UPI in a statement that based on oral arguments in the case, it's hard to predict how the Supreme Court will rule.
"In United States vs. Texas, Texas and Louisiana are challenging a 2021 federal policy that prioritizes certain groups of unauthorized immigrants for arrest and deportation. The states argue that the immigration enforcement priority policy violates the immigration statute because of a provision in the law that says the federal government 'shall' apprehend, detain, and deport every immigrant who is illegally in the United States."
But Yale-Loehr said the Biden administration counters that a ruling for the states would have sweeping implications, not only for immigration policy but also for states' ability to sue the federal government whenever they disagree with its actions on other issues and policies.
If Texas wins in the U.S. Supreme Court the Biden administration guidelines will be thrown out.
In a Supreme Court filing, Solicitor General Elizabeth B. Prelogar argued that Texas and Louisiana lack legal standing in this case.
"The Guidance does not require the States to do or refrain from doing anything," Prelogar wrote in the filing. "Instead, it simply guides federal officials in the enforcement of federal law against individuals who are strangers to this case."
She also argued that the lower court lacked jurisdiction to vacate the guidelines.
The Homeland Security guidelines in question were issued in Sept. 2021 in an effort to allocate limited federal resources.