On June 29, the United States Supreme Court ruled that affirmative action policies at the University of North Carolina and Harvard University were unconstitutional. To students of color in the United States, the decision to bar affirmative action is a massive loss, and extraordinarily important to Gen Z and college students alike. This decision comes almost a year after the landmark overturning of Roe V. Wade — a decision that put bodily autonomy and the reproductive rights of women and folks with uteruses in jeopardy nationwide.
Then on June 30, SCOTUS made another ruling: The highly anticipated, Democratically-backed student loan forgiveness plan, proposed under the Biden Administration, was struck down. The plan would have provided student debt forgiveness and repayment assistance to millions of Gen Z, college folks, and graduates throughout the country. To Gen Z, who is poised to have the highest rate of student debt (up 13% from Millenials), this decision is a devastating blow when it comes to financial freedom, and governmental assistance, in the United States.
With these two massive cases making waves across the internet, it’s easy to see their impact on Gen Z and college kids. With the Supreme Court’s 2022-2023 term coming to a close at the end of June, here are the most important rulings to Gen Z.
June 29, 2023: Students for Fair Admissions v. University of North Carolina
The Students for Fair Admissions v. University of North Carolina was a case that called affirmative action into question. If you aren’t familiar, affirmative action refers to a “set of procedures designed to; eliminate unlawful discrimination among applicants, remedy the results of such prior discrimination, and prevent such discrimination in the future,” according to Cornell University. In essence, affirmative action seeks to amplify opportunities for minority students (in particular, Black and brown students), who were historically barred from higher education programs. However, legacy students at universities worldwide will still reap the benefits of special consideration, regardless of their application stats.
“So often, we just accept that money, power, and privilege are perfectly justifiable forms of affirmative action, while kids growing up like I did are expected to compete when the ground is anything but level,” former First Lady Michelle Obama said in a statement. “So today, my heart breaks for any young person out there who’s wondering what their future holds — and what kinds of chances will be open to them.”
Additionally, in her dissent, Justice Ketanji Brown Jackson wrote, “Gulf-sized race-based gaps exist with respect to the health, wealth, and well-being of American citizens. They were created in the distant past, but have indisputably been passed down to the present day through the generations. Every moment these gaps persist is a moment in which this great country falls short of actualizing one of its foundational principles—the “self-evident” truth that all of us are created equal.”
Later in her dissent, Justice Jackson cited the struggles that Black individuals have faced throughout the years, citing this recent decision as yet another drawback to POC groups in the persistence of equity and equality. “History speaks. In some form, it can be heard forever. The race-based gaps that first developed centuries ago are echoes from the past that still exist today. By all accounts, they are still stark,” she wrote.
Affirmative action policies were introduced in the 1960s in the United States through President John F. Kennedy’s Executive Order 10925 to diminish racial discrimination against minority groups in the hiring process, later working to include gender-based discrimination in the school and workplace.
The striking down of this case directly impacts prospective students of both of these universities, but it’s more than that — it is speculated that policies like this will work their way into the workforce, allowing employers, and possibly other universities, to negate diversity.
June 30, 2023: Biden v. Nebraska
The most recent case that was decided was in regard to President Biden’s student loan forgiveness program. During his 2020 campaign, then-candidate Biden promised to cancel up to $10,000 of federal student loan debt (excluding loans from private banks) per borrower. Then, in August 2022, the Biden administration announced a plan to forgive, via executive action, $10,000 in student loans for borrowers with an annual income of less than $125,000. This plan would have wiped out over $400 billion in student debt.
The state of Nebraska, along with five other states, challenged the forgiveness program, citing violations of the Administrative Procedure Act.
For folks in low-income communities, recent grads who are financially independent, or — really — any loan borrower, the strike-down of the plan comes as a massive blow. With high inflation, out-of-control interest rates, and the rising cost of higher education, the Biden V. Nebraska case is one of the most hotly debated cases in the United States, and one of the most important for Gen Z.
June 30, 2023: 303 Creative v. Elenis
Decided on the last day of LGBTQ+ Pride Month, the court voted in favor of an “evangelical Christian web designer” based in Colorado who cited the First Amendment as a means of refusal to work on same-sex weddings. While this case doesn’t impact the country on a national scale (meaning, there was no law or mandate to come out of this), the Supreme Court’s decision to allow sexual orientation-based discrimination on a small scale may only enable other businesses, and possibly corporations, to follow suit.
While the Supreme Court is the highest court in the United States, there are still so many things that Gen Z can do in the fight for equity and equality. Consider educating yourself further on the court’s upcoming cases, as well as past decisions, and get involved in your community at the local level. Change and progress start with action, and it is up to us to get it started.