Our nation has not yet fully grasped the extent to which conservatives are trying to attack and dismantle our system of education. Education is core to our democracy, and it deserves to be accessible — financially or otherwise — to all people, and accurate to a fault. This month, the Supreme Court is hearing yet another pair of cases targeting access to education, an effort by the right to simply punish those who pursued a college education.
These two cases, Department of Education v. Brown and Biden v. Nebraska, are attempts to block President Biden’s plan to cancel up to $20,000 in student loan debt for borrowers making less than $250,000. This relief would be a vital economic boon for so many people who are struggling in the wake of COVID and the huge rise in prices, and the data confirm that those who would benefit most are people of color and veterans from low-income backgrounds.
What’s perhaps cruelest about these cases is that none of the parties who filed these lawsuits have anything on the line if they don’t win. One case was brought by individuals who simply wouldn’t benefit from the relief. If they win, they get nothing; they just block everyone else from benefiting. In the case brought by Republican state attorneys general, they claim Missouri-based loan servicer MOHELA would lose money, but MOHELA didn’t even want to be part of the case. None of the parties has demonstrated they actually have standing to challenge the debt relief.
As CNN’s Ariane de Vogue recently reported, this speaks to how dangerous these cases are. If the Court humors the challenges, it will be opening the door to so many other legal challenges where the aggrieved party doesn’t actually have to be aggrieved as traditionally required by procedural norms. Instead, they would be able to challenge whatever law or policy they don’t like simply to deprive others of something they don’t want them to have. And if these student loan cases are any indication, the many Trump-appointed judges littering the federal bench will be all too happy to indulge them.
The same can be said for the other pair of cases the Supreme Court has already heard this term challenging affirmative action. There again, there was no evidence suggesting that anyone was actually harmed or deprived of education because of affirmative action processes, and yet the Court seems all too willing to dismantle this system that addresses discrimination and has guaranteed so many Black, brown, and underprivileged students access to education for the past half-century.
We need to recognize this theme extends to the other attacks we see on education. The campaigns against books and lessons that accurately teach about our nation’s racial history or that simply discuss the existence of LGBTQ+ people are similarly fueled by power and control. Learning how the institution of slavery still shapes our society today or that some people are transgender doesn’t hurt anyone. But that is nevertheless conservatives’ narrative: that white students will feel bad learning the realities of our history or that parents won’t be able to pass on their anti-LGBTQ+ bigotries to their children.
Florida has become the flashpoint for these campaigns, as Gov. Ron DeSantis is trying to rewrite history, blocking even the simplest of books about Rosa Parks or same-sex families. We are now seeing disturbing images of school libraries where all of the books have either been removed or they’ve been covered over so students can’t read and learn. At the same time, DeSantis is trying to completely transform the New College of Florida with a hostile takeover of its board, including the appointment of Christopher Rufo, one of the chief campaigners against accurate racial history.
All of these attacks on education are of the same stripe: Only certain people should have access to education and they shouldn’t be taught anything that challenges their power and entitlement. That’s the conservative vision for education and the courts are a major battleground for this fight.
That’s why it’s so essential that the Supreme Court not entertain the premise that people should win cases where they have no standing. Just because you do not benefit from something does not make you its victim, whether it’s affirmative action, debt relief, or learning that our nation is still far from the “more perfect union” its slave-owning founders envisioned.
We can’t limit knowledge or withhold opportunity simply because some hold the power to impose those limits on our education system. The way things are going, we will no doubt see more legal cases soon challenging the oppressive classroom policies fomenting in Florida and elsewhere. If the Court is willing to hand wins to people with nothing to win just so others can lose, it will set a dangerous precedent for the future of education and open democracy as we know it.
Oral arguments in Department of Education v. Brown and Biden v. Nebraska are scheduled for February 28, 2023 and audio will be livestreamed on the Court’s website.
Zack Ford is the Senior Manager of Press and Editorial Communications at Alliance for Justice.