By Ron Holmes 1, a Member of the Bar of the Supreme Court of the United States –
At the end of June, the Supreme Court announced decisions related to race-based college admissions, student debt relief, and several other topics. The following is an apolitical summary of the Court’s holding and reasoning for three of these recent decisions.
303 Creative LLC v. Elenis: Court holds Colorado Anti-Discrimination Act cannot be enforced against a website designer seeking to avoid speech that contradicts her sincerely held beliefs.
Lorie Smith designs websites through her business 303 Creative LLC. She was expanding her business to design websites for weddings. In preparation for this expansion, she filed suit seeking an injunction to prevent her home state, Colorado, from compelling her to create wedding websites celebrating marriages that defy her beliefs. She believes “marriage should be reserved to unions between one man and one woman.”
Justice Gorsuch delivered the opinion of the Court, and Justices Roberts, Thomas, Alito, Kavanaugh, and Barrett joined. The Court held that a wedding website qualifies as “pure speech” because it will contain images, words, symbols, and other modes of expression which will be Smith’s original, customized creation used to communicate ideas. As a result, a State cannot sanction a website designer for refusing to design websites that communicate ideas which would be against her sincerely held beliefs.
Justice Sotomayor filed a dissenting opinion, with Justices Kagan and Jackson joining, noting that the law “does not force anyone to start a business…[b]ut if a business chooses to profit from the public market…the state may ensure that groups historically marked for second-class status are not denied goods or services on equal terms.”
Biden v. Nebraska: Court holds Secretary of State’s loan forgiveness plan exceeds statutory authority.
The Secretary of State established a plan to cancel approximately $430 billion of federal student loans under the 2003 Higher Education Relief Opportunities for Students Act (HEROES Act). The plan would erase the debt of 20 million borrowers and lower “the median amount owed by the other 23 million from $29,400 to $13,600.” Six states sued, arguing the HEROES Act did not authorize this. Chief Justice Roberts delivered the opinion of the Court, with Justices Thomas, Alito, Gorsuch, Kavanaugh, and Barrett joining.
The Court held that the HEROES Act restricted the Secretary of State to cancelling or reducing loans under limited circumstances and to a particular extent. The Court applied the language of the HEROES Act, which allows the Secretary to “waive or modify any statutory or regulatory provision applicable to the student financial programs….” The Court held that the ordinary meaning of “modify” allowed only for modest adjustments and additions to existing provisions. Therefore, the Secretary of State exceeded its statutory authority in attempting to forgive $430 billion in loans. The Secretary would need “clear congressional authorization,” to justify debt relief of this nature.
Justice Kagan filed a dissenting opinion, with Justices Sotomayor and Jackson joining.
Students for Fair Admissions, Inc. v. President and Fellows of Harvard College: Court holds race-based college admission programs violate the Equal Protection Clause.
Students for Fair Admissions is a nonprofit that sued Harvard College and the University of North Carolina on the basis that some of its members were denied admission based on their race. Both Harvard and UNC consider race in determining which applicants will be admitted.
The Court held that race-based admissions violate the Equal Protection Clause of the 14th Amendment. Chief Justice Roberts delivered the opinion of the Court, with Justices Thomas, Alito, Gorsuch, Kavanaugh, and Barrett joining. The Court discussed precedent on race-based admissions, emphasizing precedent already established that race-based admissions cannot unduly harm nonminority applicants and that race-based admissions programs must eventually end.
The Court then held that because admissions are “[a] benefit provided to some applicants but not to others necessarily advantages the former group at the expense of the latter.” The Court also found the racial categories and educational goals used by the institutions were imprecise. Therefore, it is impossible for any court to resolve if the institution achieved the goals its race-based admission policy sets out.
The Court held that each institutions admission program lacks “sufficiently focused and measurable objectives warranting the use of race,” and that they, “unavoidably employ race in a negative manner, involve racial stereotyping, and lack meaningful end points.” For these reasons, the Court held that the current race-based admission programs violate the Equal Protection Clause.
In its conclusion, the Court emphasized that “nothing in this opinion should be construed as prohibiting universities from considering an applicant’s discussion of how race affected his or her life, be it through discrimination, inspiration, or otherwise.” The Court held that “the student must be treated based on his or her experiences as an individual—not on the basis of race.” The Court provided examples of overcoming discrimination and being motivated by culture or heritage. These factors can confer a benefit, but must “be tied” to the individual student being considered for admission.
Justice Sotomayor filed a dissenting opinion in which Justices Kagan and Jackson joined, and Justice Jackson filed a separate dissenting opinion in which Justices Sotomayer and Kagan joined. Justice Sotomayor wrote that in college admissions, “the limited use of race has helped equalize educational opportunities for all students of every race and background has improved racial diversity on college campuses.”
If you desire a better explanation of these decisions, please contact Ron at (469) 916-7700 x105 or email him.
1 John “Jack” Freese, a 1L at Baylor Law School, contributed significantly to this article.
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About Ron Holmes
His real estate law practice is as broad as it is deep. Mr. Holmes has served as lead counsel on real transactions all across the United States (more than twenty States), representing public and private companies, both domestic and international, in all manner of real estate transactions, including large scale multi-use land developments and high rise residential condominiums, to acquisitions and sales of operating property portfolios, office, industrial and retail leasing and virtually every other form of real estate development, construction, financing, investing and leasing.Learn more about Ron…