The Supreme Court on Friday handed down its final opinions of the term, blocking Joe Biden’s attempt to cancel federal student loan debt, and ruling in favor of a Colorado web designer who sued the state over an anti-LGBTQ+ discrimination law that forced her to undertake work that violated her conscience.
In the student loan case, the justices struck down Biden’s quixotic plan to allow borrowers to cancel up to $20,000 in debt, which would have cost more than $400 billion. The program was blocked by the 8th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in October when it issued a temporary hold. An estimated 43 million people were set to benefit from the policy.
In his majority ruling, Chief Justice John Roberts found Biden’s Education Secretary Miguel Cardona had exceeded his authority with the student loan forgiveness program.
“The Secretary asserts that the HEROES Act grants him the authority to cancel $430 billion of student loan principal. It does not. We hold today that the Act allows the Secretary to ‘waive or modify’ existing statutory or regulatory provisions applicable to financial assistance programs under the Education Act, not to rewrite that statute from the ground up,” Roberts wrote.
The chief justice also cited Rep. Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.), who once said, ” people think the President of the United States has the power for debt forgiveness. He does not.”
HAHAHAHAHA Justice Roberts cited Nancy Pelosi in the majority opinion when she said Biden doesn't have the power to cancel student debt. pic.twitter.com/mhhyniRPpa
— Greg Price (@greg_price11) June 30, 2023
The other case, 303 Creative LLC v. Elenis, involved an evangelical Christian web designer who sued the state of Colorado in 2016 over the state’s LGBTQ+ anti-discrimination laws. The web designer, Lorie Smith, said that she opposed same-sex marriage on religious grounds and had a free speech right to reject requests made by same-sex couples planning gay weddings. As a creative professional, Smith argued, she had the right to refuse to undertake work that violated her deeply held beliefs.
The conservative Court majority agreed, ruling that the web designer’s work constitutes speech and the state of Colorado cannot force her to express herself in a way that violates her conscience.
“Colorado seeks to force an individual to speak in ways that align with its views but defy her conscience,” Gorsuch wrote the 6-3 majority ruling. He pointed out that this would be equally wrong if a Muslim movie director were forced to produce a movie with a Zionist message, or if a gay website creator were forced to create a website for a group advocating against gay marriage.
“The First Amendment prohibits Colorado from forcing a website designer to create expressive designs speaking messages with which the designer disagrees,” Justice Gorsuch wrote.
Justice Sonia Sotomayor called the court’s decision “heartbreaking” and “profoundly wrong,” NBC News reported. In her 20-minute dissent, she argued that web designer Lorie Smith’s argument amounted to “discrimination … plain and simple.”
“It’s a sad day in American constitutional law,” Sotomayor said, arguing that the court was “issuing a new license to discriminate.”
“Around the country, there has been a backlash to the movement for liberty and equality for gender and sexual minorities,” she said.
“New forms of inclusion have been met with reactionary exclusion. This is heartbreaking. Sadly, it is also familiar. When the civil rights and women’s rights movements sought equality in public life, some public establishments refused. Some even claimed, based on sincere religious beliefs, constitutional rights to discriminate. The brave Justices who once sat on this Court decisively rejected those claims,” Sotomayor added.
According to NBC, “Gorsuch and Sotomayor sat next to each other on the bench,” and “Gorsuch watched Sotomayor’s remarks intently, while Sotomayor didn’t appear to pay much attention to Gorsuch as he spoke.”
In his closing remarks, Gorsuch said “it is difficult to read the dissent and conclude we are looking at the same case. Much of it focuses on the evolution of public accommodations laws, and the strides gay Americans have made towards securing equal justice.”
“And, no doubt, there is much to applaud here. But none of this answers the question we face today: Can a State force someone who provides her own expressive services to abandon her conscience and speak its preferred message instead?”
“When the dissent finally gets around to that question— more than halfway into its opinion—it reimagines the facts of this case from top to bottom,” Gorsuch wrote.
Gorsuch accusing Sotomayor of making stuff up and getting lost in her own web of lies is a sight to behold. pic.twitter.com/lWEfxZbDTC
— Marina Medvin 🇺🇸 (@MarinaMedvin) June 30, 2023
The case closely resembles the Masterpiece Cakeshop v. Colorado Civil Rights Commission case, in which the Supreme Court in 2018 ruled in favor of a baker who had conscientiously objected to making custom cakes for gay marriages.
In a 7-2 decision, the Court held that the Colorado Civil Rights Commission violated the Free Exercise Clause when it punished baker Jack Phillips’ for declining to make a wedding cake for a same-sex couple.