CRIME, POLICE + COURTS

Here’s what’s left for the Supreme Court on final day of this term

Jun 30, 2023, 6:30 AM | Updated: 6:43 am

FILE- Light illuminates part of the Supreme Court building on Capitol Hill in Washington, Nov. 16, ...

FILE- Light illuminates part of the Supreme Court building on Capitol Hill in Washington, Nov. 16, 2022. (AP Photo/Patrick Semansky, File)Credit: ASSOCIATED PRESS

(AP Photo/Patrick Semansky, File)

(CNN) — Friday marks the final day of the 2022-23 Supreme Court term, and momentous cases concerning student loan payments and LGBTQ rights will be released.

The rulings could lead to fiery opinions and dissents read from the bench, and they will come as the court finds itself in the center of a spotlight usually reserved for members of the political branches due to allegations that the justices are not transparent enough when it comes to their ethics disclosures, most recently with Justice Samuel Alito last week.

Here are some of the remaining cases to be decided:

Biden’s student loan program

The Supreme Court is also considering two challenges to President Joe Biden’s student loan forgiveness program, an initiative aimed at providing targeted debt relief to millions of student-loan borrowers that has so far been stalled by legal challenges.

Republican-led states and conservatives challenging the program say it amounts to an unlawful attempt to erase an estimated $430 billion of federal student loan debt under the guise of the pandemic.

At the heart of the case is the Department of Education’s authority to forgive the loans. Several of the conservative justices have signaled in recent years that agencies – with no direct accountability to the public – have become too powerful, upsetting the separation of powers.

They have moved to cut back on the so-called administrative state.

In court, Chief Justice John Roberts, as well as some other conservatives, seemed deeply skeptical of the Biden administration’s plan.

Can businesses deny services to LGBTQ customers?

At the center of another case is a graphic designer, Lorie Smith, who seeks to expand her business and create custom websites to celebrate weddings – but does not want to work with gay couples out of religious objections to same-sex marriage.

Smith has not yet moved forward with her new business venture because of Colorado’s public accommodations law. Under the law, a business may not refuse to serve individuals because of their sexual orientation. Smith, whose company is called 303 Creative LLC, said that she is willing to work with all people, regardless of their sexual orientation, but she draws the line at creating websites that celebrate same-sex marriage because expressing such a message would be inconsistent with her beliefs.

The state and supporters of LGBTQ rights say that Smith is simply seeking a license to discriminate.

The conservatives on the court were sympathetic at oral arguments to those put forward by Smith’s lawyer. They viewed the case through the lens of free speech and suggested that an artist or someone creating a customized product could not be forced by the government to express a message that violates her religious beliefs.

Decided this week

Affirmative action in college admissions

The court on Thursday largely gutted affirmative action, saying colleges and universities can no longer take race into consideration as a specific basis for granting admission. The landmark decision overturned long-standing precedent that has benefited Black and Latino students in higher education.

Roberts wrote the opinion for the conservative majority, saying the Harvard and University of North Carolina admissions programs violated the Equal Protection Clause because they failed to offer “measurable” objectives to justify the use of race. He said the programs involve racial stereotyping and had no specific end point.

The decision was largely expected. During oral arguments, the right side of the bench appeared ready to rule against the schools. The opinion delivers a long-sought victory for opponents of affirmative action in higher education who have argued for decades that taking race into consideration – even in a limited manner – thwarts the goal of achieving a color-blind society.

Religious accommodation for postal worker

Also on Thursday, the justices revived a case brought by a former mail carrier who is an evangelical Christian who sued the US Postal Service because it failed to accommodate his request not to work on Sundays.

A lower court had ruled against the worker, Gerald Groff, holding that his request would cause an “undue burden” on the USPS and lead to low morale at the workplace when other employees had to pick up his shifts.

Rejecting the ‘Independent State Legislature’ theory

Moore v. Harper captured the nation’s attention because Republican lawmakers in North Carolina are asking the justices to adopt a long dormant legal theory and hold that state courts and other state entities have a limited role in reviewing election rules established by state legislatures when it comes to federal elections.

The doctrine – called the Independent State Legislature theory – was pushed by conservatives and supporters of Donald Trump after the 2020 presidential election.

Tuesday, a 6-3 court rejected it.

“State courts retain the authority to apply state constitutional restraints when legislatures act under the power conferred upon them by the Elections Clause,” Roberts wrote.

As a result, there is now Supreme Court precedent rejecting some of the more maximalist but unsettled theories that have been championed by John Eastman and other GOP lawyers.

But the somewhat limited ruling will leave plenty of avenues for future election-related challenges, regarding how districts are drawn, the deadlines for mail-in ballots and other key questions.

This story has been updated with additional developments.

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Here’s what’s left for the Supreme Court on final day of this term