By Ethan Oppenheim
In the span of just two days, the Supreme Court deemed both race-based admissions and President Joe Biden’s student loan waiver plan unconstitutional and reaffirmed the right to freedom of speech and religious practice. These decisions are rather refreshing given that the Court in recent decades has largely abandoned the traditional principles guiding constitutional interpretation in favor of upholding overly broad legislation and blatant government overreaches that likely would have been deemed tyrannical in the Founding era. To better understand the rulings’ significance and impact as they pertain to individual liberty and equal opportunity, below is a broader examination of each court case:
In Students for Fair Admissions, Inc. v. President and Fellows of Harvard College (2023), the Court determined that race-based college admissions plans violate both Title VI of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and the Fourteenth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution, which affords individuals the “equal protection of the laws.”
While one may object to the ruling on the basis of personal fondness for affirmative action as a policy or its perceived success, this does not change the legality of such a policy in practice. Granting preferential treatment of any kind to certain racial or ethnic groups is inherently discriminatory. Further, as a “program or activity receiving Federal financial assistance,” colleges such as Harvard University are forbidden from discriminating based on “race, color, or national origin” under Title VI of the Civil Rights Act.
The Court’s decision emphasizes the importance of selecting students based on merit rather than the color of their skin, and therefore, it is a significant victory for equality in America.
Student Loan Repayments
The Supreme Court deemed the Biden administration’s plan to waive approximately $430 billion worth of student debt unconstitutional last week in Biden v. Nebraska (2023). The Court rightfully determined that the Biden administration lacked the Constitutional authority to implement his proposed program through executive action and that the Department of Education could not permissibly act unilaterally. The authority to do so does not fall under the Education Secretary’s powers under the HEROES Act.
Despite the ruling, the Biden administration is already attempting to find another way to force its radical policy down the throats of American taxpayers by ignoring the Supreme Court, and thus, the Constitution. The administration’s actions demonstrate the importance of both the precedent established in the case as well as of the Supreme Court as a crucial check against the executive branch. Clearly, executive power left unchecked will inevitably lead to a failure to comply with Constitutional limitations, and history demonstrates that the president, no matter his political affiliation, is more than willing to pursue his political agenda and goals through illegal means.
Freedom of Speech
In 303 Creative LLC v. Elenis (2023), the Court ruled unconstitutional Colorado’s enforcement of an anti-discrimination law that would have compelled website designer Lorie Smith to create works–against her personal beliefs–that recognize same-sex marriages. The case serves as a victory for what is arguably the most important Constitutional Amendment: the First Amendment.
The compelled speech doctrine maintains that the government cannot permissibly force an individual to support certain speech. However, in its enforcement of the anti-discrimination statute, the state of Colorado compelled Ms. Smith into supporting speech that contradicts her beliefs. Therefore, Colorado violated the First Amendment.
The right to free speech is one of the most fundamental rights guaranteed in the Constitution. It serves many core purposes, one of which is to prevent the government from devolving into tyranny. This could certainly occur if the government forces its citizens to express a certain viewpoint, which is no less dangerous than preventing individuals from expressing a certain viewpoint. If the state were to retain the authority to compel individuals to express a viewpoint with which they disagree, the state could then achieve a monopoly on permissible speech.
Religious Freedom in the Workplace
Finally, the Court in Groff v. DeJoy (2023) expands religious liberty by making it more difficult for employers to permissibly deny religious accommodations to employees who request them. The case arose when a U.S. Postal Service worker requested an exemption from delivering packages on Sundays, on which he observes Sabbath.
Given my adherence to the liberty of contract principle, which is the idea that individuals retain the fundamental right to engage in contractual agreements–including employment agreements–free of government intervention without due process, I am unsure whether I fully agree with the Groff decision. Nonetheless, the decision advances both liberty and equality.
The justices who ruled in the majority in each of the four cases ought to be praised for their commitment to preserving the freedoms guaranteed by the Constitution and for ensuring equality of opportunity regardless of background. Liberty and equality are fundamental principles that the framers enshrined in our founding document, and they should never fall victim to party politics or skewed judicial philosophies. Today’s Supreme Court proved that it is willing to protect these principles by adhering to the Constitution.
As Americans reflect on these cases in the aftermath of our nation’s birthday, I hope that they, too, are capable of putting aside their personal biases and recognizing the justices’ decisions for what they are: a win for liberty, equality, and the Constitution.
Mr. Oppenheim is a junior at Chapman University. He is majoring in political science and philosophy and minoring in film music and history.