.Supreme Setbacks

In three recent rulings, the Supreme Court struck down student debt relief and affirmative action, and put LGBTQ+ protections at risk

Last week, the U. S. Supreme Court announced its final opinions on two major cases: it ruled in favor of a web designer who refused to create websites for LGBTQ+ couples and overruled President Joe Biden’s student loan forgiveness plan.    

The decision comes after the court struck down affirmative action in college admissions last week. 

Unforgiven: Student Loans

In a 6-3 decision, split down ideological lines with conservative justices in the majority, the Supreme Court slashed Biden’s $400 billion plan to ease the student debt burden of an estimated 43 million borrowers. 

The court held that the administration needs Congress’ approval before undertaking such a costly program, ruling that the Biden administration overstepped its authority in trying to cancel the repayments.   

Twenty million borrowers could’ve had their debt erased entirely, according to the Biden administration. Currently, Americans owe $1.75 trillion in total student loan debt, including federal and private loans. 

“We sympathize with the many college graduates across the country who are pained by the decision reached by the Supreme Court [Friday],” said CSU Interim Chancellor Jolene Koester. “We recognize the financial relief a different decision would have yielded and affirm our longstanding commitment to providing an accessible, affordable, high-quality education.”

According to collegefactual.com, 34% of incoming SJSU students take out a loan to help with freshman year costs, averaging $5,908 per student.

“The Cal State Student Association expresses deep disappointment in the Supreme Court’s decision against student loan forgiveness,” said California State Student Association president, Dominic Quan. “We believe that this decision overlooks the crippling impact of student debt on millions of graduates and the wider implications it has on the socioeconomic fabric of our society.”

Biden responded to the Supreme Court’s decision on June 30 by announcing the administration will pursue relieving debt through a different law, the Higher Education Act of 1965. 

He says he is “not going to stop fighting to deliver borrowers what they need, particularly those at the bottom end of the economic scale,” from a speech at the White House. A timeline and next steps are still undetermined.   

Student debt payments, which have been on pause since the pandemic, are expected to resume this fall.

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Pride Flag

Nixed: LGBTQ+ Equal Treatment 

June 30 also met with a 6-3 decision by the Supreme Court in favor of a Christian web designer who refused to create websites celebrating same-sex weddings.

In a 2022 Public Religion Research Institute [PRRI] survey, 80% of Americans reported supporting laws against LGBTQ discrimination. One of these topics directly dealt with small business and discrimination. “[If] a small business owner in your state refuses to provide products or services to gay or lesbian people, [that] would violate their religious beliefs,” states the report.

“The recent Supreme Court decision regarding businesses not being obligated to serve LGBTQ+ customers is deeply concerning to us,” said Sera Fernando, manager at the County of Santa Clara Office of LGBTQ Affairs. “We firmly believe in the principles of equity and nondiscrimination, and recognize the impact this ruling may have on the LGBTQ+ community.”

Fernando explained that despite the Supreme Court decision, the County of Santa Clara Office of LGBTQ Affairs remains committed to advocating for comprehensive protections that ensure fair treatment and equitable access to services for all individuals, regardless of their sexual orientation or gender identity. “It is our hope through education, dialogue, and continued advocacy, we can foster a more inclusive and welcoming society for everyone,” she said.

Colorblind Admissions

Another ruling last week struck down affirmative action programs at the University of North Carolina and Harvard in a major blow to local minority activists, ending the systematic consideration of race in the admissions process. 

The court ruled that both programs violate the Equal Protection Clause of the Constitution and are therefore unlawful. The vote was 6-3 in the UNC case and 6-2 in the Harvard case, in which liberal Justice Ketanji Brown Jackson was recused.

The purpose of the affirmative action program under consideration by the court, which traces back to an executive order by President Lyndon B. Johnson, was to increase the representation of women and minorities in a number of American institutions as a way to correct for historical discrimination. 

But in California, consideration of race in admissions has been banned since 1996 through the voter-approved Proposition 209.  

Still, the California State University administration made it clear that decision is the latest attack on efforts reducing systemic barriers to opportunity amongst historically marginalized populations.

“As leaders of California’s public higher education institutions, we are disappointed by the Supreme Court’s decision [last] week to prohibit the use of race in college admissions,” said CSU’s interim chancellor Jolene Koester, University of California president Michael V. Drake, M.D. and California Community Colleges chancellor Sonya Christian. “The benefits of campus diversity are clear: It leads to higher quality education for all by refl​ecting a plurality of ideas and perspectives, and it results in increased community benefit when diverse graduates enter the workforce.

“Diversity, equity, inclusion and belonging are core values at our institutions. We will continue to support programs and practices that seek to address historical inequities and ensure that our colleges and universities are reflective of California’s rich and dynamic diversity,” said the same state collegiate team. “We remain committed to creating educational opportunities for all Californians so that they can reach their full potential and so that all California communities can thrive.”

President Joe Biden called the decision a “severe disappointment,” adding that his administration would provide guidance on how colleges could maintain diversity without violating the ruling.

A recent Pew Research study found that half Americans disapprove of universities and colleges considering racial and ethnic backgrounds into account when making admission decisions. Those Americans who disagreed with the process were primarily white respondents, people without college degrees and Republicans. 

At SJSU, the student body was a mix of ethnicities, according to a 2020 school year DATAUSA survey. Both undergraduate and graduate students were counted in the survey and made a total population of 32.5% Asian, 27.1% Hispanic/Latinx, 17.6% White and 3.4% Black/African American. Less than 5% of students had a blending of two or more races, while less than 1% of students identified as Native Hawaiian/Other Pacific Islanders, or American Indian/Alaska Native.

At San Jose City College, data from that same 2020 school year found 47% of the population to be Hispanic/Latinx, 24.8% Asian, 13% White, 5.24% Black/African American, with less than 4% identifying as two or more races and less than 1% being Native Hawaiian/Other Pacific Islander, or American Indian/Alaska Native.

Todd Guild, Drew Penner and Jeanette Prather contributed to this article.


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