‘Attack on modern life’: US Congress member Ro Khanna on the supreme court rulings
"On Friday, the supreme court’s conservative majority both invalidated Joe Biden’s student debt forgiveness program and sided with a Colorado-based web design company that wanted to refuse service to same-sex couples. A day earlier, the court ended race-conscious college admissions decisions, overturning decades of precedent upholding affirmative action.
The hard-right decisions from the conservative majority have reinvigorated calls to reform the court and progressive congressman Ro Khanna of California is at the forefront of that campaign. He expressed outrage over the ruling on Biden’s student debt program, arguing the decision proved the “regressive” court must be overhauled .
In an interview with the Guardian, Khanna said the Biden administration could still offer relief to student borrowers, who are currently expected to resume payments in October. Khanna called for that deadline to be extended while the White House examines other options to assist student borrowers and he celebrated Biden’s announcement that the administration will take initial steps to invoke the Higher Education Act to advance its debt relief program.
The Biden administration had justified the program based on the the Higher Education Relief Opportunities for Students Act of 2003, or the HEROES Act, which says the government can provide relief to student borrowers in the event of a “national emergency”. The court’s conservative justices rejected that legal argument, striking down the program and denying financial relief to roughly 40 million Americans, so the White House is now pursuing a new legal avenue to act on student debt relief.
But Khanna is not stopping at temporary relief for student borrowers. He is ramping up his efforts to pass a bill that would establish term limits for the justices instead of allowing them to serve lifelong terms and he pointed to the decisions issued this term as more evidence of the urgent need for court reform.
“This is a court that is out of touch, with attacks on modern life,” Khanna said. “And it’s exactly why we need term limits on these supreme court justices.”
Read more of the Guardian’s interview with Khanna, which has been edited for clarity and length:
What is your response to the supreme court’s ruling on Biden’s student loan program? I know this was not the decision that you and fellow progressives wanted.
It’s an example of the court striking another blow to ordinary Americans. This is a court that is out of touch, with attacks on modern life. It’s a court that is regressive, that is rolling back women’s rights, rolling back rights about racial equality, rolling back environmental protections, rolling back now assistance for young people. And it’s exactly why we need term limits on these supreme court justices.
What does this mean for the progressive movement? I know that progressives went to such great lengths to convince President Biden to enact this program in the first place and now it’s been scrapped by the supreme court.
We’ve got to figure out how to at least pause the student loan repayment until we make good on our promise to forgive student loans. The administration has a number of legal options to do that and we must do that. We can’t forsake young people who are relying on the president’s policy.
What is your response to Biden’s announcement that he will invoke the Higher Education Act to try to preserve his debt relief program?
I am very glad that President Biden is not giving up the fight to cancel student debt and plans to invoke the Higher Education Authority Act. I urge him to be bold and do everything in his power to deliver relief – we cannot abandon young people now.
From your conversations so far, does it seem like the White House is open to your other ideas on helping student borrowers?
They have engaged in a constructive conversation with those of us in the progressive caucus, but we’ve made it clear: there is no other option. The students who have been promised this forgiveness cannot be repaying student loans [this fall]. That would be a punch to the gut of millions of young Americans across this country.
What is your message today for student borrowers who are disappointed by this ruling and concerned about the possible resumption of payments?
Demand that your generation lead. The current generation establishment is failing you. The establishment is broken. It’s hard being young in America today, and we need your generation to lead … Take the reins. Start running for Congress and Senate, for president. Say it’s your generation’s turn.
You have called for the need to reform the supreme court, specifically in the form of term limits. Do you think that this ruling today lends more urgency to that issue?
I believe this ruling absolutely lends more urgency. When you look at how out of touch this court is with women’s rights, with racial equality, with voting rights, with the environment, with the challenges young people face, with LGBTQ+ rights, then you know they’re just out of touch. Many of these people couldn’t win elections for dogcatcher. That’s why we need term limits. It is widely supported by a broad section of the American people.
In addition to term limits, would you also support expanding the court? What do you think of that proposal?
I think everything has to be on the table, but I think the supreme court term limits is the most likely and where we should focus our energy.
Do you think court reform should be a priority for Democrats once they take back the House, assuming they hold the Senate and the White House? Whenever that trifecta comes back into effect, do you think court reform needs to be at the top of the priority list for Democrats?
Absolutely, and I think term limits is something the president can run on in 2024."