Play Live Radio
Next Up:
0:00 0:00
Available On Air Stations

Here are the major Supreme Court decisions decided this term

The U.S. Supreme Court has about four weeks left to release opinions for more than two dozen cases it heard this term.
Mandel Ngan
AFP via Getty Images
The U.S. Supreme Court has about four weeks left to release opinions for more than two dozen cases it heard this term.

Updated June 30, 2023 at 3:10 PM ET

The U.S. Supreme Court has wrapped up its term and begun to agree to cases it will hear in its next one, to begin in the fall.

Here are the major cases NPR has been following in the current term:

Student loans

Biden v. Nebraska

Update June 30: In a highly anticipated decision, the Supreme Court on Friday struck down President Biden's groundbreaking plan to forgive some or all federal student loan debt for tens of millions of Americans.

By a 6-to-3 vote on ideological lines, the high court ruled that federal law does not authorize the Department of Education to cancel such student loan debt. Read more about the opinion and also read NPR's live coverage for the latest updates and reaction.

Original story: A handful of Republican-dominated states – Missouri, Nebraska, Iowa, Arkansas, Kansas and South Carolina – have asked the Supreme Court to permanently block the Biden administration's student loan forgiveness program. The states contend that the president exceeded his legal authority when he implemented a program to cancel up to $20,000 in debt for people holding federal student loans.

The merits of the case are fairly straightforward. Does the 2003 law, known as the HEROES Act, give the president and his secretary of education the power to authorize federal student loan forgiveness? The case was argued in February.

Read more about the case:

  • Supreme Court will hear challenge to Biden's student debt-relief program
  • Biden's student loan relief faces its biggest test yet at the Supreme Court
  • Conservative and liberals split at Supreme Court over Biden student loan plan
  • LGBTQ rights

    303 Creative v. Elenis

    Update June 30: The U.S. Supreme Court ruled 6-3 along ideological lines that the First Amendment bars Colorado from "forcing a website designer to create expressive designs speaking messages with which the designer disagrees." Read more about the opinion here.

    Original story: The case pits two constitutional principles against each other. On one side are laws that guarantee same-sex couples equal access to all businesses that offer their services to the public. On the other are business owners who see themselves as artists and don't want to use their talents to express a message that they don't believe in.

    The plaintiff in the case is a Colorado web designer who argues that Colorado's public accommodations law prevents her from doing what she wants to do most — custom web designs for weddings. The reason: She believes that marriage should only be between a man and a woman. The case was argued Dec. 6.

    Read more about the case:

  • Supreme Court hears case of web designer who doesn't want to work on same-sex wedding

  • These cases have been decided:

    Affirmative Action

    Students for Fair Admission v. Harvard and Students for Fair Admission v. University of North Carolina

    Update June 29: The U.S. Supreme Court has found that Harvard and the University of North Carolina's admissions policy violated the equal protection clause of the 14th Amendment.

    The decision reverses decades of precedent upheld over the years by narrow court majorities that included Republican-appointed justices. It could end the ability of colleges and universities — public and private — to do what most say they still need to do: consider race as one of many factors in deciding which of the qualified applicants is to be admitted. Read more about the decision here and follow NPR's live coverage for the latest updates and reaction to this ruling.

    Original story: At issue are affirmative action programs at the the University of North Carolina, which until the 1950s did not admit Black students, and Harvard University, which was the model for the Supreme Court's 1978 decision declaring that colleges and universities may consider race as one of many factors, from the applicant's geographical and family background, to their special talents in science, math, athletics, and even whether the applicant is the child of the school's alumni.

    The two cases overlap. Because UNC is a state school, the question is whether its affirmative-action program violates the 14th Amendment's guarantee to equal protection of the law. And even though Harvard is a private institution, it still is covered by federal anti-discrimination laws because it accepts federal money for a wide variety of programs. The cases were argued last October.

    Read more about the cases:

  • Can race play a role in college admissions? The Supreme Court hears the arguments
  • How the Supreme Court has ruled in the past about affirmative action
  • Sunday work at USPS

    Groff v. DeJoy

    Update June 29: The U.S. Supreme Court unanimously handed a major victory to religious groups by greatly expanding how far employers must go to accommodate the religious views of their employees.

    The court ruled in favor of an evangelical Christian Postal Service carrier who refused to work on Sundays for religious reasons. Read more about the ruling here.

    Original story: The case tests how far employers must go to accommodate the religious views of employees.

    Forty-six years ago, the court, by a lopsided margin, ruled that an employer need not accommodate a worker's desire to avoid work on the Sabbath if that would mean operating shorthanded or regularly paying premium wages to replacement workers. The court went on to say that employers should not have to bear more than what it called, quote, "a de minimis," or trifling, cost.

    The de minimis language has sparked lots of criticism over the years, but Congress has repeatedly rejected proposals to provide greater accommodation for religious observers, including those who object to working on the Sabbath. Now, however, religious groups of every kind are pressing a new and more conservative group of justices to overturn or modify the court's earlier ruling. The case was heard in April.

    Read more about the case:

  • Who bears the burden, and how much, when religious employees refuse Sabbath work?
  • Supreme Court conservatives seem divided in major religion case
  • Voting Rights Act

    Merrill v. Milligan

    Update June 8: The Supreme Court ruled against Alabama's defense of an electoral map drawn by the state's Republican-dominated legislature. By a vote of 5-4, a coalition of liberal and conservative justices essentially upheld the court's 1986 decision requiring that in states where voting is racially polarized, the legislature must create the maximum number of majority-Black or near-majority-Black congressional districts, using traditional redistricting criteria. Read about the decision here.

    Original story: At issue in Alabama's congressional redistricting plan adopted by the Republican state legislature after the 2020 census. More than a quarter of the state's population is African American, but in only 1 of 7 districts do minority voters have a realistic chance of electing the candidate of their choice. Black voters are either concentrated in that district so they are a supermajority there or spread out across the remaining six districts so that their voting power is diluted. It's a practice known as packing and cracking.

    In January 2022, a three-judge federal court panel ruled unanimously that Alabama could and should have created two compact congressional districts with a majority, or close to a majority, of Black voters: two districts instead of just one. Two of the judges on the panel were Trump appointees, the third a Clinton appointee.

    The state appealed to the Supreme Court, which by a 5-4 vote blocked the lower court ruling­, which ordered a new map for the 2022 election, then nine months away. That was too much for Chief Justice John Roberts, a longtime critic of the Voting Rights Act, but who this time dissented along with the court's three liberals. He said he could find "no apparent errors" in the way the lower court applied existing precedents. What he didn't say was whether the court should revisit some of those precedents. The case was argued in October.

    Read more about the case:

  • Who counts as Black in voting maps? Some GOP state officials want that narrowed
  • The Supreme Court Case That Will Decide if Voting Rights Should Be Race-Blind
  • How a Supreme Court justice's paragraph put the Voting Rights Act in more danger
  • Indian Child Welfare Act

    Haaland v. Brackeen

    Update June 15: The U.S. Supreme Court, defying predictions, upheld the Indian Child Welfare Act Thursday. By a 7-to-2 vote, the court upheld the law's preferences for Native tribes when Indian children are adopted, ruling that the law does not discriminate on the basis of race and does not impermissibly impose a federal mandate on traditionally state-regulated areas of power. Read about the decision here.

    Original story: The case pitted several prospective adoptive parents and the state of Texas against the Indian Child Welfare Act — a federal law aimed at preventing Native American children from being separated from their extended families and their tribes.

    Texas and several families who are adopting American Indian children challenged the law in court. They contended it amounts to an unconstitutional racial preference, and that the federal law impermissibly intrudes on state autonomy. The case was argued in November.

    Read more about the case:

  • The Indian Child Welfare Act Is Before The Supreme Court. What Is It?
  • Independent state legislature theory

    Moore v. Harper

    Update June 27: The U.S. Supreme Court ruled 6-3 that state constitutions can protect voting rights in federal elections and state courts can enforce those provisions, in a key opinion that should safeguard the integrity of the 2024 election. Read about the case here.

    Original story: At issue is the so-called independent state legislature theory, put forth in this case by the North Carolina Republican state Legislature. If adopted, it would give state legislatures the power to put in place all manner of election laws and rules without any review by the state courts. At its most extreme, the theory could eliminate not just state judicial power over elections, but governor's vetoes. And it might allow state legislatures to certify presidential electors who were not approved by the voters — an idea that Donald Trump tried unsuccessfully to put forth in 2020.

    In the particular case before the justices, the North Carolina Supreme Court ruled that the Republican-dominated state Legislature, in drawing new congressional districts after the 2020 census, violated the state constitution with an extreme partisan gerrymander.

    The case was argued Dec. 7.

    Read more about the case:

  • Supreme Court to take on controversial election law case
  • The Supreme Court is weighing a theory that could upend elections. Here's how
  • Is drawing a voting map that helps a political party illegal? Only in some states
  • Copyright 2023 NPR. To see more, visit

    Washington Desk