.Supreme Setbacks

In three of its latest rulings, the Supreme Court struck down student debt forgiveness, affirmative action, and put LGBTQ+ protections at risk

On Friday morning, the 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 struck down President Joe Biden’s student loan forgiveness plan.    

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

Student Loan Forgiveness Denied

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 help the estimated 43 million borrowers who incurred debt as students. 

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. 

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Hector Marin is among those who was looking forward to having his student debt canceled or reduced. A University of California, Santa Cruz (UCSC) alumni and a Pell Grant recipient, he likely would have qualified to have all of his $20,000 of debt forgiven. The full-time consultant says he’s considering his options, as he’ll be up against a $200 monthly bill, as soon as he’s forced to resume payments.

“I’m going to have to take money from savings, and also maybe get a second job,” Marin says. “I’m also having thoughts (of) moving back in with my parents in Riverside, instead of living independently here in Santa Cruz, because the cost of living is getting worse. And now, if you add that with the new expenses at the same time, it takes a toll, not only financially on the individual, but also socially and mentally—and that’s a lot of pressure.”  

According to collegefactual.com, 37% of incoming students take out a loan to help with freshman year costs, averaging $6,294 each.

Marin, of Latinx descent and a first-generation college student, says that the recent decision is going to hurt minorities and low-income people the most. He comes from a working class family that was financially unable to help him cover living expenses, so even though his Pell Grants covered tuition, he had to take out loans to cover cost of living.

“The relief plan would have especially benefited first-generation college graduates and those from low-income backgrounds, who are more likely to take on debt to complete their education,” UCSC spokesperson Scott Hernandez-Jason says. 

On Friday afternoon, Biden responded to the Supreme Court’s decision 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,” in 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.

LGBTQ+ Rights Jeopardized 

On Friday, the Supreme Court also ruled, in a 6-3 decision, in favor of a Christian web designer who refused to create websites celebrating same-sex weddings.

Cheryl Fraenzl, Executive Director of The Diversity Center in Santa Cruz, says the decision flies in the face of longstanding tradition of having businesses be equally open to everyone.

It is also counter to the societal position on LGBTQ rights in the U.S., where 80% support nondiscrimination protections, she says. 

“The decision sends a distressing signal that certain business owners’ religious beliefs can be used as a license to discriminate, further marginalizing an already vulnerable community,” she says. 

And while the narrow ruling likely applies to a small number of businesses, the dissenting justices say that it creates an unprecedented exception to nondiscrimination laws, Fraenzl says.

“This decision is out of step with the values held by the majority of people in this country, who understand that discrimination has no place in our society,” she says. 

“Today the U.S. Supreme Court issued a ruling granting a narrow exemption from nondiscrimination law to a Colorado website design business so that they can deny services to same-sex couples,”  Fraenzl says. “Denying service to anyone because of who they are is out of step with what the overwhelming majority of Americans, including business owners, believe.”

The same protections apply, she says, forbid racial discrimination protect religious expression and treat women as equal citizens.

“We must all do our part to ensure this ruling is not used to open the door to further discrimination in the marketplace,” she says. “Otherwise, we risk turning back to a time when businesses regularly denied goods and services to people because of not just their LGBTQ+ status but also their religion, race, national origin, sex, and more.”

Local Response

Jess Lide, 24, sat with her guitar along Pacific Avenue, Friday afternoon, as her boyfriend Kevin Cross, 23, strung his banjo.

The RV dwellers, originally from Florida and Southern California respectively, have been in Santa Cruz four days now. They were downtown busking to earn money to put gas in their vehicle.

Lide recounted how she’d enrolled in online college, hoping to become a teacher, but eventually dropped out.

“It was just too expensive,” she says, adding becoming an educator didn’t seem like it would generate enough money to pay back a loan. “The ROI is not there.”

Was the Supreme Court’s decision against debt elimination something they expected?

“Sadly, it’s not surprising, you know. It’s really not shocking,” Lide says. 

Lide explained she grew up in a low-income area, graduated at the top of her class and even got a scholarship.

“I couldn’t afford to do it,” she says, adding her sister seriously considered going into the military to pay off her student debt. 

Lide says the state of learning in America saddens her. After all, even though she’s no longer pursuing teaching as a profession, she continues to believe education is key to instilling change in society.

Just down the street, Damien Gibson, 34, was taking a break from hawking his head-high paintings featuring colorful shapes reminiscent of sprinkles on icing.

What does he think the impact of the ruling will be?

“If student loan debt was eliminated, people would have more money to buy art; people would have more time for art,” he says. “We gotta work jobs instead of doing what we really love.”

He’s got about $4,000 dollars of student debt on the books but he looks at the issue from a macro, if tasty, perspective.

“Art is like donuts—you don’t need it, but you want it,” he says, with one eye on the canvases leaning against a wall. “When push comes to shove, when people are pinching pennies, people don’t buy donuts.”

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Aiyana Moya
News Editor
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