News & Commentary

July 2, 2023

Swap Agrawal

Swap Agrawal is a student at Harvard Law School.

In this weekend’s news and commentary, the Supreme Court struck down President Biden’s loan forgiveness program, the Court ruled that Colorado cannot enforce an anti-discrimination law against a website designer who claimed making a wedding website for same-sex couples would violate her First Amendment rights, and SAG-AFTRA and the AMPTP agreed to extend negotiations to temporarily avert a strike.

On Friday, the Supreme Court struck down President Biden’s student loan forgiveness plan in Biden v. Nebraska. Chief Justice John Roberts, joined by the five other conservatives on the Court, held that the Biden administration overstepped its authority last year when it announced that it would cancel $400 billion in loans. Biden relied on the HEROES Act to permanently cancel up to $20,000 in loans for borrowers who qualify. 43 million Americans would have benefitted from the loan forgiveness program, and almost half of those borrowers would have had all of their student loans forgiven.

Six Republican attorneys general and two individuals with student loans challenged the administration’s actions. Although the Supreme Court held that individual borrowers lacked standing to challenge the debt-relief plan, the Court ruled that Missouri had a right to sue due to the financial impact of the plan on the state’s Higher Education Loan Authority. Proceeding to the merits, the majority held that the authority to “waive or modify” laws and regulations governing student-loan programs allowed the administration to make “modest adjustments and additions to existing provisions” but “not transform them.”

Unions were heavily involved in lobbying the Biden administration to expand its forgiveness program. President Biden responded to Friday’s ruling by announcing new measures to ease student debt burdens, but union leaders are again calling on him to do more. AFL-CIO President Liz Schuler stated: “This decision is unconscionable. … America’s unions urge the Biden administration to explore every possible pathway for student loan forgiveness so that we can secure our collective financial future.” SEIU International President Mary Kay Henry said: “On the heels of a disastrous decision on affirmative action, the Supreme Court showed once again that the rules of our economy are rigged against working people in striking down President Biden’s urgently needed student debt relief program.”

The Supreme Court also ruled 6-3 on Friday that Colorado cannot enforce a state anti-discrimination law against a website designer who did not want to make a wedding website for a same-sex couple. Justice Gorsuch’s majority opinion held that the state could not “force an individual to speak in ways that align with its views but defy her conscience about a matter of major significance.” The opinion centered on the position that website creation is speech. The Court’s decision will therefore provide similar license to discriminate to other business owners whose services involve speech, such as artists, speechwriters, and movie directors. AFL-CIO President Schuler again criticized the Court’s ruling, stating: Just as the court used freedom of contract to strike down protective labor laws a century ago, today’s court is using the First Amendment to strip LGBTQ+ people and the most vulnerable citizens in our society of protection. … Unions are one of the best tools we have to fight back against discrimination, and we remain committed to expanding access to collective bargaining so that all working people can benefit from equal protection.”

The Screen Actors Guild-American Federation of Television and Radio Artists (SAG-AFTRA) and the Alliance of Motion Picture and Television Producers (AMPTP) agreed on Friday to extend their 2020 TV/Theatrical contracts to July 12. This move temporarily averted a strike, as the contracts were set to expire at midnight on Friday, June 30. “No one should mistake this extension for weakness. We see you. We hear you. We are you,” SAG-AFTRA said in a letter to its members. 98% of SAG-AFTRA’s 65,000 members voted last month to authorize a strike if a deal is not reached. On Tuesday, high-profile actors including Meryl Streep, Julia Louis-Dreyfus, and Jennifer Lawrence circulated a letter sharing their concerns that “SAG-AFTRA members may be ready to make sacrifices that leadership is not.” The signatories called attention to minimum pay rates, streaming residuals, exclusivity provisions, a transformation of self-taped audition practices, and major regulation of artificial intelligence, making sure that the deal “protects not just our likenesses, but makes sure we are well compensated when any of our work is used to train AI.” See Jacqueline’s previous coverage here.

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