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The Dartmouth
April 14, 2024 | Latest Issue
The Dartmouth

Community reacts to recent Supreme Court rulings

In June, the Supreme Court made waves with two controversial rulings: Biden v. Nebraska, which blocked Biden’s student loan forgiveness plan, and 303 Creative LLC v. Elenis, which curtailed LGBTQ+ protections.

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On June 30, 2023, the U.S. Supreme Court garnered widespread attention for two decisions, both with a 6-3 ruling. The first, 303 Creative LLC v. Elenis, ruled that a Christian web designer had the right to refuse service for a same-sex couple under the First Amendment. The other, Biden v. Nebraska, struck down President Joe Biden’s student loan forgiveness plan, which would have provided tens of millions of Americans with up to $20,000 of debt erasure, CNBC reported.

The two cases reflected the Court’s continued push to unwind decades-old decisions, following its decision to overturn Roe v. Wade in June 2022 and  ruling to strike down affirmative action in June 2023. Across the country, liberals — including dissenting justices and President Joe Biden — have lamented the decisions, pointing to negative impacts for the country and its LGBTQ+ community. Conservatives, on the other hand, have argued that the Court is upholding the Constitution and dismantling faulty laws, CNN reported. 

303 Creative LLC v. Elenis

Members of the Dartmouth community recognized the case’s deep impact. Interim Dartmouth Democrats president Prescott Herzog ’25 — who also serves as the New Hampshire College Democrats president — said that “people are really frightened” by the ruling, noting its power to harm the country’s LGBTQ+ community.

“I think it’s really upsetting to see the Supreme Court restrict rights in this sort of sense,” Herzog said. “We’ve seen such broad progress with the LGBTQ community in the past 10 years or so, and to see the Court deciding that a business can legally discriminate is quite frightening, especially in this moment where LGBTQ people are so vulnerable — particularly trans people in this country.”

Women’s, gender and sexuality studies associate professor Eng-Beng Lim called the ruling a “pushback against multicultural liberalism.” He added that the decision challenges “inclusive rhetorics” that have become a societal norm.

Lim also compared the case to “gay panic defenses,” or “the fear of the sexual other” that is used to justify legislation, litigation or violence against sexual minorities. He explained that sex panics often appear in “turbulent times as the easy target” in the political sphere.

“Whether [the ruling] is partisan or whether it is a First Amendment issue, it comes back to the question of sexuality,” Lim said. “It’s really using sexuality as the lever for turning any number of legal, political measures explicitly against gay and trans folks.”

Although many Americans have pointed to the politicization of the Supreme Court, government professor Sonu Bedi said he does not “view these decisions in an ideological way.” 

He explained that Justice Neil Gorsuch, the Justice who wrote the opinion for 303 Creative LLC v. Elenis, also wrote the opinion for Bostock v. Clayton County — the “most important LGBT decision by the Court” after Obergefell v. Hodges. Bostock v. Clayton County protected individuals from discrimination on the basis of their sexual and gender identity, muddying the possibility that Gorsuch is “against LBGT rights,” Bedi said. 

“I view these decisions as the Court … seeking to describe the document and the principles that underlie it,” he said. “The disagreement is a feature; it’s not a bug, it’s a feature.”

Bedi added that the Court engaged in a “principle disagreement about the nature of speech,” ultimately deciding that a website can be understood as a form of speech. The decision, he said, thus raises the possibility that other actions could be protected under the First Amendment.

“Are there other kinds of services that are going to be seen or be understood then as this form of speech, and hence protected under freedom of speech?” Bedi asked. “For example, would it be that if somebody is designing a wedding cake, would that be considered pure speech?”

While Herzog said he does not think the decision will directly affect the Dartmouth community, he said the Dartmouth Democrats will take steps to protect their values.

“We’re going to ensure that we do everything that we can to organize and get the student vote to turn out for people who are going to reflect our values, both in the Senate confirmation process and also the presidency,” Herzog said. “All of these Supreme Court justices came from previous posts and different perspectives and had to be nominated by a Democratic or Republican president.”

The Office of Pluralism and Leadership declined to comment.

Biden v. Nebraska

According to Bedi, Biden v. Nebraska centered on the Higher Education Relief Opportunities for Students Act of 2001 — a statute that allowed the secretary of education to “waive or modify any statutory or regulatory provision” to protect borrowers impacted by terrorism, the New York Times reported. In 2003, Congress expanded the law beyond terrorism to “a war or other military operation or national emergency.”

Bedi said that the Justices first disagreed on issues of standing — whether Missouri had standing to sue the Secretary — and then on “what the statute means.” While the Biden administration argued that the HEROES Act allowed them to cancel student loan debt, the Court “says that this statute does not authorize this loan cancellation,” Bedi said.

“What the court is saying is that when agencies operate in ways that have major economic or social impact on Americans such as this … Congress has to be clear [that] they have delegated this power,” Bedi explained. “What they’re saying in this case [is that] Congress didn’t really make clear that the Secretary has the authority to cancel the student debts. They assume that when Congress delegates it does so narrowly. The dissenting opinion says that when Congress delegates power to these agencies, it does so broadly.”

Similar to 303 Creative LLC v. Elenis, Bedi emphasized the fact that “disagreement is a feature” of the Supreme Court.

“Let’s not disparage the fact that there’s disagreement,” he said. “Maybe we can even marvel at that disagreement.”  

Still, Herzog said that it was “upsetting and disheartening” to see the Court prevent the Biden administration from helping young people and minorities with student loans. He explained that he worries about students from his hometown of Claremont, New Hampshire who took out loans to attend public institutions. 

“When I think about this decision, I’m not thinking about the Dartmouth students that are going to be affected,” Herzog said. “I’m thinking about the students back in my hometown… This $20,000 from the student loan relief could have really meant something and made an impact on their day-to-day lives of not being entrapped by this debt.”

Dartmouth eliminated required loans as part of its Call to Lead campaign last year, according to past reporting by The Dartmouth. First-Generation Office and Prepare-to-Launch associate director Janice Veronica Williams wrote in an emailed statement that the FGO is “proud” of the College’s “No Loan Initiative.”

“Increasing scholarship funds so that undergraduate students no longer have financial aid award packages that include loans — regardless of income or citizenship — is a powerful way to make Dartmouth affordable for all of our undergraduates, including our first-generation scholars,” she wrote.

Still, College officials recognized the decision’s broad impact on the nation. College Financial Aid Director Dino Koff said that the decision has caused “huge emotional swings for students” who were hoping for loan forgiveness.

“This decision keeps emotions running high for another year,” Koff wrote in an emailed statement. “Having high fees on Parent Loans or Graduate PLUS loans, families are being squeezed. Congress cannot begin discussions on solving this problem until they figure out the loan forgiveness issue.”

The Dartmouth College Conservatives did not respond to requests for comment by the time of publication.