Supreme Court will rule on student debt relief Friday

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(The Hill) — The Supreme Court will release its final decisions of the term Friday morning, handing down rulings on student debt relief and a free speech case involving same-sex wedding websites.

The last decisions will cap a term that has already included the gutting of affirmative action in college admissions alongside a string of victories for the left on the Voting Rights Act, a Biden-era immigration policy and federal elections.

Here’s what to know with the court on the cusp of its summer recess: 

When will the Supreme Court term end?

Chief Justice of the United States John Roberts arrives before President Joe Biden delivers the State of the Union address to a joint session of Congress at the Capitol, Tuesday, Feb. 7, 2023, in Washington. (AP Photo/Jacquelyn Martin, Pool, File)

After the affirmative action decision was handed down, Chief Justice John Roberts said in the courtroom that Friday will be the last day the Supreme Court hands down decisions, fitting the norm of the court finishing its work by the end of June.

The court’s term technically does not end, however.

It will continue until the first Monday in October. The justices in the summer months still act on emergency applications, including requests for intervention on executions and other time-pressing matters.

When will the Supreme Court rule on student loans?

Supreme Court in Washington, D.C.

The Supreme Court in Washington, D.C., on Thursday, June 29, 2023

The court will hand down its three remaining decisions on Friday: two challenges to Biden’s student debt relief plan and a free speech case that intersects with LGBTQ rights.

The fate of debt relief for more than 40 million borrowers rests with the justices’ consideration of two cases. The first is brought by a group of six GOP-led states, and the other is brought by two borrowers who did not qualify for the maximum relief under the plan.

The justices could hand down the ruling in one decision or release them separately. For the debt relief to go through, it must survive both lawsuits.

First, the justices will rule on whether any of the challengers have legal standing, meaning their authority to bring their challenges in the first place. At least one challenger must have standing for the justices to block the plan.

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The challengers promote various arguments, but Missouri — one of the six states suing Biden — received the closest attention among the justices at February’s oral argument.

Central to the state’s standing argument is MOHELA, a student loan servicer and quasi-state entity. MOHELA has not challenged the debt relief plan, but Missouri argues it can sue on the loan servicer’s behalf and that MOHELA would face revenue losses that would ultimately cause the state harm.

If the high court finds that any of the eight challengers have standing, it’ll move to the merits of whether Education Secretary Miguel Cardona can forgive the hundreds of billions of dollars in debt.

The administration cites the Higher Education Relief Opportunities for Students (HEROES) Act, a post-9/11 law that Congress passed as the country headed to war. The law gives the Education secretary authority to “waive or modify” federal student financial assistance programs “as the Secretary deems necessary in connection with a war or other military operation or national emergency.”

Cardona has tied the relief to the national emergency established during the pandemic, contending borrowers will be in a worse financial position once student loan payments resume in the coming months if the administration does not provide the relief. 

The conservative majority appeared skeptical at oral argument that the HEROES Act authorized the plan, leading to a sense of worry among borrowers and debt relief advocates that the plan will be blocked.

Such an outcome would mark a defeat for one of the president’s major campaign promises.

Ruling expected on free speech case

Lorie Smith, a Christian graphic artist and website designer in Colorado, right, accompanied by her lawyer, Kristen Waggoner of the Alliance Defending Freedom, second from left, speaks outside the Supreme Court in Washington, Monday, Dec. 5, 2022, after her case was heard before the Supreme Court. The Supreme Court is hearing the case of Smith, who objects to designing wedding websites for gay couples, that’s the latest clash of religion and gay rights to land at the highest court. (AP Photo/Andrew Harnik)

The justices have one remaining case other than student debt relief: evangelical Christian Lorie Smith’s challenge to Colorado’s public accommodation law on free speech grounds.

Colorado’s law for more than a decade has prevented businesses that serve the public from discriminating against customers based on their sexual orientation.

Smith, who owns website design company 303 Creative LLC, wants to expand her business to design wedding websites. But she is opposed to gay marriage and says Colorado’s law would require her to design websites for same-sex couples if she wants to do so for opposite-sex marriages. So Smith filed a pre-enforcement lawsuit against Colorado state officials, seeking to block the law under the First Amendment. 

The court is now set to decide how public accommodation laws in Colorado and other states apply to artists and whether they unconstitutionally compel their speech. 

The case, which is being closely watched by LGBTQ advocacy groups, is the second time Colorado’s law has come before the Supreme Court. The justices previously disposed of a cake baker’s challenge to the law on narrower grounds.

What time of day do Supreme Court decisions come out?

Associated Justice Clarence Thomas (AP Photo/Pablo Martinez Monsivais)

The justices will convene in the courtroom at 10 a.m., where they will immediately proceed to read aloud summaries of the majority opinions from the bench. 

Other justices who write dissents or concurring opinions on rare occasions also read from the bench, as justices Clarence Thomas and Sonia Sotomayor did for the affirmative action decision

The exact speed depends on how long the justices read the opinions — Sotomayor read aloud her blistering affirmative action dissent for about 20 minutes on Thursday — though the announcement is likely to take less than an hour in total. 

Where are Supreme Court rulings posted?

The written opinions are distributed to the press as they are being read in the courtroom, and they become available online here shortly afterward.

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