Supreme Court preview: Major decisions yet to come

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(the hill) – The season of Supreme Court decisions is in full swing.

The justices in the coming weeks will issue major decisions on student debt relief, affirmative action and the Voting Rights Act, with rulings in the remaining 30 cases expected to be issued by June 30.

Here’s a preview of the main decisions.

Student debt relief

The fate of President Biden’s student debt relief plan rests with the justices, who are weighing two separate challenges: one from six Republican-led states, the other from two individual borrowers.

It’s about whether more than 40 million Americans will get debt relief, as well as a big Biden campaign promise.

The plan, currently on hold, would cancel up to $20,000 in loans for Pell Grant recipients and $10,000 for other borrowers, if the individual’s income is less than $125,000. The income limit is doubled for married couples.

The conservative majority court during the oral argument in February cast doubt that the administration had the authority unilaterally write off hundreds of billions of dollars in student debt.

It is possible, however, that the court will remove the challenges without reaching the merits. Conservative Justice Amy Coney Barrett during oral argument joined the court’s three liberals in fiercely questioning the challengers about whether they had standing to sue in the first place.

Affirmative action

Decades of affirmative action programs in college admissions may soon come to an end.

The Supreme Court is considering challenges to the admissions policies of both Harvard University and the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.

The rulings will have a national impact.

The justices are explicitly being asked to overturn a landmark 2003 decision that allowed race to be considered one of many factors in college admissions.

Affirmative action survived another court challenge in 2016, but the addition of former President Trump’s appointees in the years since has swung the court to the right.

It makes the twin cases now before the judges the biggest threat yet to affirmative action programs; in the oral argument, the court expressed skepticism on maintaining race-conscious admissions policies.

Voting Rights Act

The justices are poised to decide when states must draw majority-minority districts as the court resolves a dispute over Alabama’s congressional map.

The opinion could further weaken the Voting Rights Act, a decade after the court struck down another provision, which controlled which state and local governments were subject to federal preclearance before changing their voting laws, because it was unconstitutional

In Alabama, state Republicans are asking judges to reverse a lower ruling that found their map violated Section 2 of the law, which remains in effect.

Alabama’s map includes one majority-black congressional district out of a total of seven, even though the group makes up 27 percent of the state’s population. A three-judge panel ruled that the map violated Section 2 by impermissibly packing black voters into one district and distributing them across others.

The GOP-led state argues that its design was race-neutral and that pursuing opposing arguments would prioritize race over traditional redistricting principles.

In a 5-4 vote last year, the court temporarily reinstated Alabama’s map while it took up the case. Several conservative judges seemed open to raising the legal bar for Voting Rights Act map challenges, but even if Alabama emerges victorious, it’s unclear exactly how far the court will rule.

American Indian adoptions

The Supreme Court could soon lead to a major change in how foster care placements and adoptions are handled for thousands of American Indian children.

Judges are hear a constitutional challenge to the Indian Child Welfare Act (ICWA), which Congress enacted in 1978 to combat the common practice of separating Native children from their families and tribes.

ICWA imposes minimum standards for removing Native children and establishes default preferences for their adoption and foster care placement.

Several couples who tried to adopt or foster Native children are suing the law, arguing that it institutes racial classifications that violate the equal protection clause of the 14th Amendment.

They are joined by Texas and a father whose native biological child was adopted by one of the couples. The parties also argue that Congress exceeded its authority in enacting the law.

Several tribes and the Biden administration defended ICWA in court, insisting that the law’s references to the “Indian child” and tribes are political, not racial, distinctions.

LGBTQ protections

First came the pastry chef. Now comes the website designer.

Several wedding vendors who oppose same-sex marriage and say their products amount to pure speech have challenged public accommodation laws that require them to offer equal services regardless of a customer’s sexual orientation.

Taking up a challenge to Colorado’s law, the high court may put its thumb on the scale this term.

In 2018, the court avoided weighing the hot-button issue by ruling out bakery owner Jack Phillips’ challenge to the Colorado law on limited grounds.

A few miles from the Phillips store, website designer Lorie Smith wants to create wedding websites. But Colorado law would require Smith to offer those services to same-sex couples.

He has asked the justices to decide the question they never got to five years ago. In the oral amendment, the conservatives of the court indicated support for Smith.

Theory of the independent state legislature

An appeal by North Carolina’s Republican state lawmakers may overturn legal challenges to congressional maps and other federal election rules. It could also be a failure.

The case involves the so-called “independent state legislature” theory, which holds that the Constitution gives state legislatures almost total authority to regulate federal elections, eliminating all other state bodies from the process.

Pursuing this argument would prevent state courts and state constitutions from hearing claims such as partisan gerrymandering in congressional redistricting.

Last year, the Democratic-majority North Carolina Supreme Court struck down the congressional map drawn by the state’s Republicans. It prompted state lawmakers to appeal to the nation’s highest court and argue that the state court lacked authority, and urged the justices to adopt the theory.

the judges seemed to seek a middle ground during the oral argument in December. But now, they may not need to achieve the merits at all.

After Republicans regained control of the North Carolina Supreme Court in the midterms, the new majority granted a rare hearing of the case and overturned the earlier decision.

Justices in Washington have since questioned whether they still have the authority to go forward, as they are hearing an appeal of a ruling that effectively no longer exists.

Dismissing the case could also bring the issue into the 2024 election cycle.

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