Skinny on SCOTUS - The Final Chapter...for Now

AP Photo/Mariam Zuhaib

Well, folks, we’ve reached the end of another SCOTUS Season, and I think it’s fair to say it’s been a strong one overall. Sure, there were some disappointments (U.S. v. Texas, Moore v. Harper, and National Pork Producers Council v. Ross), as well as some odd ones (Jack Daniels Properties v. VIP Products, Yegiazaryan v. Smagin). Still, overall, some decent rulings were handed down. And they weren’t all 6-3, despite what some on the left would have you believe in light of a few of the more politically-charged decisions.

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The final three decisions of the term were handed down on Friday. We’ve written on them here at RedState, of course, and I encourage you to check out that coverage:

Supreme Court Rules Christian Web Design Company Does Not Have to Promote Gay Weddings

BREAKING: SCOTUS Rules Against Biden Administration on Student Loan Forgiveness

Say What? Sonia Sotomayor Is Compared to Mazie Hirono After Astonishing Claims in AA, 303 Case Dissents

With 303 Decision, Supreme Court Is the Skunk at the Pride Parade

Gorsuch Savages Sotomayor’s Brain-Melting Dissent in the 303 Creative Case

Justice Kagan Challenges Sonia Sotomayor for Wildest Dissent of the Day

As for “the skinny” on them:

June 30, 2023 Decisions

Biden v. Nebraska

Author: Roberts

Split: 6-3

Dissent: Jackson, Kagan, Sotomayor

Appeal From: 8th Circuit/District Court for the Eastern District of Missouri

Basic Facts (from the Court’s Syllabus, citations omitted): Title IV of the Higher Education Act of 1965 (Education Act) governs federal financial aid mechanisms, including student loans. The Act authorizes the Secretary of Education to cancel or reduce loans in certain limited circumstances. The Secretary may cancel a set amount of loans held by some public servants. He may also forgive the loans of borrowers who have died or become “permanently and totally disabled,” borrowers who are bankrupt, and borrowers whose schools falsely certify them, close down, or fail to pay lenders. Under the HEROES Act, the Secretary “may waive or modify any statutory or regulatory provision applicable to the student financial assistance programs under title IV of the [Education Act] as the Secretary deems necessary in connection with a war or other military operation or national emergency.” As relevant here, the Secretary may issue such waivers or modifications only “as may be necessary to ensure” that “recipients of student financial assistance under title IV of the [Education Act affected by a national emergency] are not placed in a worse position financially in relation to that financial assistance because of [the national emergency].”

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In 2022, as the COVID–19 pandemic came to its end, the Secretary invoked the HEROES Act to issue “waivers and modifications” reducing or eliminating the federal student debt of most borrowers. Borrowers with eligible federal student loans who had an income below $125,000 in either 2020 or 2021 qualified for a loan balance discharge of up to $10,000. Those who previously received Pell Grants—a specific type of federal student loan based on financial need—qualified for a discharge of up to $20,000. Six States challenged the plan as exceeding the Secretary’s statutory authority. The District Court held that none of the states had standing to challenge the plan and dismissed the suit. The Eighth Circuit concluded that Missouri likely had standing through the Missouri Higher Education Loan Authority (MOHELA or Authority), a public corporation that holds and services student loans, and issued a nationwide preliminary injunction pending resolution of the appeal, and the Supreme Court granted certiorari before judgment.

Issue: Whether the Secretary has authority under the Higher Education Relief Opportunities for Students Act of 2003 (HEROES Act) to depart from the existing provisions of the Education Act and establish a student loan forgiveness program that will cancel about $430 billion in debt principal and affect nearly all borrowers.

Holding:

  1. At least Missouri has standing to challenge the Secretary’s program.
  2. The HEROES Act allows the Secretary to “waive or modify” existing statutory or regulatory provisions applicable to financial assistance programs under the Education Act, but does not allow the Secretary to rewrite that statute to the extent of canceling $430 billion of student loan principal. (District Court for the Eastern District of Missouri reversed.)
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Department of Education v. Brown

Author: Alito

Split: 9-0

Dissent: N/A

Appeal From: 5th Circuit/United States District Court for the Northern District of Texas

Basic Facts (from the Court’s Opinion, citations omitted): In August 2022, the Secretary of Education announced a large-scale student-loan forgiveness program. He pledged to discharge hundreds of billions of dollars in student-loan debt owed by millions of borrowers. According to the Secretary, the discharge was necessary to alleviate hardship caused by the impending resumption of loan repayments, which had been suspended during the multi-year coronavirus pandemic, and he therefore invoked authority that he claimed he enjoyed under the Higher Education Relief Opportunities for Students Act of 2003 (HEROES Act). The following month, the Secretary directed that specific actions be taken to implement the loan-forgiveness plan (Plan). The amount of relief available to a borrower under the Plan depends on various criteria, including the borrower’s income and the type of loan the borrower holds. Before the Plan took effect, however, various plaintiffs— including respondents here—sued to enjoin it. Respondents are two individual borrowers who, for different reasons, do not qualify for the maximum relief available under the Plan. They argue that the Department of Education promulgated the Plan without following mandatory procedures known as (1) negotiated rulemaking and (2) notice and comment. The District Court held in favor of respondents, and the Supreme Court granted certiorari before judgment to consider this case alongside Biden v. Nebraska, No. 22–506, which presents a similar challenge to the Plan.

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Issue: Whether the Secretary has authority under the Higher Education Relief Opportunities for Students Act of 2003 (HEROES Act) to depart from the existing provisions of the Education Act and establish a student loan forgiveness program that will cancel about $430 billion in debt principal and affect nearly all borrowers.

Holding: Respondents lack standing to bring the claim. (Judgment of the United States District Court for the Northern District of Texas vacated and remanded with instructions to dismiss.)


303 Creative v. Elenis

Author: Gorsuch

Split: 6-3

Dissent: Jackson, Kagan, Sotomayor

Appeal From: 10th Circuit

Basic Facts (from the Court’s Syllabus, citations omitted): Lorie Smith wants to expand her graphic design business, 303 Creative LLC, to include services for couples seeking wedding websites. But Ms. Smith worries that Colorado will use the Colorado Anti-Discrimination Act to compel her—in violation of the First Amendment—to create websites celebrating marriages she does not endorse. To clarify her rights, Ms. Smith filed a lawsuit seeking an injunction to prevent the State from forcing her to create websites celebrating marriages that defy her belief that marriage should be reserved to unions between one man and one woman.

CADA prohibits all “public accommodations” from denying “the full and equal enjoyment” of its goods and services to any customer based on his race, creed, disability, sexual orientation, or other statutorily enumerated trait. The law defines “public accommodation” broadly to include almost every public-facing business in the State. Either state officials or private citizens may bring actions to enforce the law. And a variety of penalties can follow any violation.

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Before the district court, Ms. Smith and the State stipulated to a number of facts: Ms. Smith is “willing to work with all people regardless of classifications such as race, creed, sexual orientation, and gender” and “will gladly create custom graphics and websites” for clients of any sexual orientation; she will not produce content that “contradicts biblical truth” regardless of who orders it; Ms. Smith’s belief that marriage is a union between one man and one woman is a sincerely held conviction; Ms. Smith provides design services that are “expressive” and her “original, customized” creations “contribut[e] to the overall message” her business conveys “through the websites” it creates; the wedding websites she plans to create “will be expressive in nature,” will be “customized and tailored” through close collaboration with individual couples, and will “express Ms. Smith’s and 303 Creative’s message celebrating and promoting” her view of marriage; viewers of Ms. Smith’s websites “will know that the websites are her original artwork;” and “[t]here are numerous companies in the State of Colorado and across the nation that offer custom website design services.” Ultimately, the district court held that Ms. Smith was not entitled to the injunction she sought, and the Tenth Circuit affirmed.

Issue: Whether the First Amendment prohibits Colorado from forcing a website designer to create expressive designs speaking messages with which the designer disagrees.

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Holding: Yes.

The First Amendment’s protections belong to all, not just to speakers whose motives the government finds worthy.

Consistent with the First Amendment, the Nation’s answer is tolerance, not coercion. The First Amendment envisions the United States as a rich and complex place where all persons are free to think and speak as they wish, not as the government demands. Colorado cannot deny that promise consistent with the First Amendment.

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