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The Supreme Court's Biggest Decisions Are Coming. Here's What They Could Say
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Published 11 months ago on
June 26, 2023

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The Supreme Court is getting ready to decide some of its biggest cases of the term. The high court has 10 opinions left to release over the next week before the justices begin their summer break. As is typical, the last opinions to be released cover some of the most contentious issues the court has wrestled with this term including affirmative action, student loans and gay rights.

Here’s a look at some of the cases the court has left to decide from the term that began back in October:

AFFIRMATIVE ACTION

The survival of affirmative action in higher education is the subject of two related cases, one involving Harvard and the other the University of North Carolina. The Supreme Court has previously approved of the use of affirmative action in higher education in decisions reaching back to 1978. But the justices’ decision to take the cases suggested a willingness to revisit those rulings. And when the high court heard arguments in the cases in late October, all six conservative justices on the court expressed doubts about the practice.

The Biden administration has said that getting rid of race-conscious college admissions would have a “destabilizing” effect that would cause the ranks of Black and Latino students to plummet at the nation’s most selective schools.

STUDENT LOANS

The justices will also 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 yet 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.

RELIGIOUS RIGHTS

Another case that could end as a victory for religious rights is the case of a Christian mail carrier who refused to work on Sundays when he was required to deliver Amazon packages.

The question for the high court has to do with when businesses have to accommodate religious employees. The case is somewhat unusual in that both sides agree on a number of things, and when the court heard arguments in April both liberal and conservative justices seemed in broad agreement that businesses like the Postal Service can’t cite minor costs or hardships to reject requests to accommodate religious practices. That could mean a ruling joined by both liberals and conservatives.

Less clear, however, was how the justices might decide the particular worker’s case.

VOTING

As election season accelerates, the Supreme Court has still not said what it will do in a case about the power of state legislatures to make rules for congressional and presidential elections without being checked by state courts.

In a case out of North Carolina the justices were asked to essentially eliminate the power of state courts to strike down congressional districts drawn by legislatures on the grounds that they violate state constitutions.

But there’s a wrinkle. Since the justices heard arguments in the case in December, North Carolina’s state Supreme Court threw out the ruling the Supreme Court was reviewing after Republicans claimed control of that court. That could give the justices an out and let them dismiss the case without reaching a decision.

The high court could still take up a similar case from Ohio and reach a decision there, but it wouldn’t be until after the 2024 elections.

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