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Thursday, June 20
The Indiana Daily Student

politics

Six major cases heard by SCOTUS in 2023

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With three weeks left in the court’s 2022-23 term, the Supreme Court of the United States still needs to issue opinions on 27 cases. This term, SCOTUS has heard arguments on a range of high-profile cases, including those concerning voting rights, environmental protection and affirmative action.  

What cases have been decided?  

Of the 59 cases for argument scheduled for the 2022-23 term, SCOTUS has issued decisions in 36 cases as of June 8, 2023. Here are three decisions that have gained national attention:   

Sackett v. Environmental Protection Agency  

In this 5-4 decision, SCOTUS limited the EPA’s authority to regulate pollution in wetlands, areas of land covered with water or saturated water. According to the National Parks Service, wetlands provide ecological services including water quality control, flood and erosion control. The court ruled in favor of Michael and Chantall Sackett, who wanted to build a residential home on land near Priest Lake, Idaho, which the EPA considered a wetland.  

[Related: Indiana Environmental Reporter to cease operations in June]

The court's opinion states the Clean Water Act did not give the EPA authority to regulate pollution in wetlands that are located near other “waters of the United States” unless there is a “continuous surface connection” between the wetland and body of water. The Clean Water Act is a 1972 law that established a structure for regulating the release of pollutants into waters and defines “waters of the United States” as interstate navigable waters.  

The ruling removes more protections for wetlands in Indiana, where state protections for many wetlands were removed two years ago, according to Indiana Public Media. In April 2021, Indiana Gov. Eric Holcomb signed Senate Enrolled Act 389, which removed permit requirements for land developers building on certain types of wetlands. Indiana has lost approximately 85% of wetlands within the state, according to a recent Status of Wetlands in Indiana report.  

Gonzalez v. Google LLC 

In May, SCOTUS returned the case of Gonzalez v. Google LLC to a lower court, stating in an unsigned opinion the justices declined to address Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act in the context of the case. According to the Associated Press, Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act states providers of information — such as Google or Facebook — are not considered the publisher or speaker of information on their site that has been provided by another user. For instance, if someone posts a false claim on Twitter, one cannot sue Twitter, only the person who posted the claim.  

[Related: IU professors say TikTok ban could set precedent for future bans]

In 2017, the family of Nohemi Gonzalez, a California State University at Long Beach student killed in a 2015 terrorist shooting in Paris, filed a lawsuit against Google LLC, arguing that YouTube, which is owned by Google, promoted propaganda videos with its recommendation algorithms. The family and their lawyers claimed Google violated the U.S. Anti-Terrorism Act.  

A lower court sided with Google, stating Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act protected the internet company from liability. SCOTUS agreed to hear the case this past October when the family appealed the ruling. However, SCOTUS is sidestepping the decision and returning the case to the lower court.  

Allen v. Milligan  

SCOTUS voted 5-4 to uphold a section of the Voting Rights Act that prohibits drawing voting districts to weaken minority voting strength. According to the Department of Justice, section 2 of the Voting Rights Act of 1965 prohibits voting procedures that discriminate based on race, color or membership in a language minority group.  

In this decision, the court upheld a lower court ruling that determined Alabama adopted a districting plan that violated section 2 of the Voting Rights Act. The districting plan had created only one district in which Black voters made up a majority of voters, according to the National Review.  

According to ProPublica, many experts now expect SCOTUS to rule on another election gerrymandering case in Louisiana, Ardoin v. Robinson.  

What cases are still pending?  

In the remaining weeks of the term, SCOTUS needs to issue opinions in 27 cases, according to National Public Radio. SCOTUS has not yet issued opinions on these three high-profile cases:  

Students for Fair Admissions v. President and Fellows of Harvard College and Students for Fair Admissions v. University of North Carolina 

In these two similar cases, SCOTUS is expected to deliver a ruling regarding the two schools’ affirmative action policies. Both Harvard University and the University of North Carolina Chapel Hill consider race in their admissions processes — something Students for Fair Admissions is challenging.  

Students for Fair Admissions, led by conservative legal strategist Edward Blum, alleges the universities’ affirmative action policies harm white and Asian American students, according to the Chicago Sun Times. The group claims the admissions process violated Title VI of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, which states no person in the US shall be excluded from participation in or denied benefits of any program receiving federal financial assistance based on race, color or national origin.  

[Related: IUSG amendment removes minimum required representation for multicultural seats]

Harvard University and the University of North Carolina stated that while they use race as one of many factors in their admissions process, their processes adhere to race-based admission requirements set in the court’s decision in Grutter v. Bollinger, according to Oyez.  

According to IU’s undergraduate admissions policy, IU bases its admissions decisions on the “academic quality of the applicants.” The policy states IU will not deny applicants based on sex, age, race, religion, ethnic origin, veteran status, disability or sexual orientation. The policy also states IU supports and complies with affirmative action regulations.  

Biden v. Nebraska 

According to National Public Radio, Republican leaders from Missouri, Nebraska, Iowa, Arkansas, Kansas and South Carolina appealed a lower court decision to SCOTUS in attempt block the Biden administration’s student loan forgiveness program, which would cancel up to $20,000 in debt for some borrowers holding federal student loans.  

The states argue Biden and the Department of Education do not have the authority to cancel student loans due to the pandemic. The court’s decision will concern the Higher Education Relief Opportunities for Students Act of 2003, which gives the Secretary of Education authority to alleviate hardship for federal student loan borrowers because of national emergencies, according to the Department of Justice.  

[Related: What does the debt ceiling agreement mean for student loan payments?]

In 2020, former Education Secretary Betsy DeVos paused loan payments at the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic, invoking the HEROES Act. Biden argues the financial burden resulting from the pandemic is still present in 2023. Student loan payments will resume by the end of August, following the passage of a provision in the debt ceiling agreement that puts an end to the freeze.

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