Columnist Richard Fein: The Supreme Court sometimes makes the right decisions


Published: 07-23-2023 5:38 PM

In the name of enrollment diversity, should race be a factor in college admissions? Should college student loan debts be forgiven in whole or in part because they are a burden on the debtor?

College admissions

This is my understanding. The case was brought by Students for Fair Admissions (SFFA), a largely Asian American group. It related to the admissions policies of two colleges (Harvard and University of North Carolina), but its impact will be felt in hundreds of other institutions of higher education. The central question was: Can a college, in the name of diversity, consider race as one factor in admissions?

The two universities contended that their student bodies will become less diverse because fewer Black and Hispanic applicants would be admitted unless race could be used as a criterion. That is important, they contended, because diversity is important to the educational experience. SFFA argued Asian Americans had to significantly outperform students of other races to earn a spot at selective colleges and universities. This violated their rights under the Civil Rights Act of 1964.

It is important to note that the case was about diversity in enrollment, not an attempt to right past and present wrongs against Black Americans . Also, as President Biden noted, “nothing in the decision should prevent admissions officers” from considering an [applicant’s] discussion of how race [has] affected his or her life, be it through discrimination [or] inspiration or otherwise.”

I agree with the substance of the court’s 6-3 decision. One ethnic group should not be disadvantaged in favor of others.

Also, other potential considerations would add to diversity, for example, coming from a military service, working class, or farming family. Diversity should also include political opinions such as the mix of Democrats versus Republicans . As an aside, diversity of political opinions in their faculty should be important. According to a Harvard Crimson survey, more than 80% of the Harvard faculty self-identified as liberal or very liberal.

Student loan forgiveness

The court ruled that Biden’s executive order to cancel at least $400 billion in college student loans was beyond his authority . The president claimed that he did have authority based on the Heroes Act. The court rejected that argument because the statute clearly related to military veterans and firefighters.

The president is now looking for some other statutory authority upon which to base loan forgiveness. My opinion is that Biden’s efforts to cancel student loans is unfair and a burden that will be borne by other American families. Here are my reasons, some of which were addressed in my column last year:

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The cost of the debt cancellation equals $2,000 per federal tax filer. Is that fair to the 100 million Americans who file tax returns and do not have their loans (mortgages, car, medical etc) reduced or canceled?

Under the Biden plan, hundreds of billions of dollars would not be paid to the U.S. Treasury. It follows that either other expenditures would be cut, taxes would be raised, or the national debt, now at $32 trillion, would be increased.

College students do receive something for their money, namely an education. What’s more, college graduates taken as a whole will make more many in the course of their working life than non college graduates. Remember, those who took out these loans promised in writing to pay them back.

Student loan cancellation is unfair to the many students who attended colleges that were more affordable for their family or worked many hours per week to reduce the amount they would need to borrow in the first place. Similarly, many people diligently paid off their debt in full. Making responsible choices about what you can afford and/or paying off your debts is laudable and shouldn’t mean the loss of a financial benefit.

A study by the National Bureau of Economic Research regarding the recently ended three-year student debt moratorium said that “the student debt payment pause immediately increased consumption, as borrowers used the new liquidity to increase borrowing on credit cards, mortgages, and auto loans.”

I am outraged by the Mitch McConnell chicanery that led to the current composition of the court. That said, the response of some public officials to recent decisions concerns me. For example, U.S. Rep. Jim McGovern issued a press release that referred to the “corrupt majority on the Supreme Court” and “a Supreme Court bought and paid for by wealthy special interests.”

Sen. Ed Markey said in his press release that “The stolen, far-right Supreme Court majority has no shame.”

Many of us will strongly disagree with some or even many Supreme Court decisions. However, attacks on the court’s legitimacy per se undermine a pillar of the constitutional order.

Richard Fein holds a master of arts degree in political science and an MBA in economics. He can be reached at