Undergraduate Spotlight: Juan Carlos “Kyle” Becerra Jr.

Headshot of Kyle Becerra

Photo of Kyle Becerra

Juan Carlos Becerra Jr., known by his childhood nickname Kyle, was born and raised in the San Fernando Valley in Los Angeles County. Kyle is studying political science and transferred to Stanford from his local community college in 2021. Kyle is passionate about political philosophy and especially democratic theory — a passion he developed after taking all of Professor Brian Coyne's classes at Stanford. He served on the Undergraduate Senate last year and is a huge Stanford Women's Basketball fan. Kyle was recently selected to join the Schwarzman Scholars Class of 2024-2025, a one-year, fully funded graduate fellowship to pursue a master’s degree in global affairs at Schwarzman College at Tsinghua University in Beijing, China.

Why did you choose to participate in the Honors Program in Ethics in Society?

I chose to participate in the Honors Program in Ethics in Society because I saw it as an opportunity to delve deeper into my academic passions, more specifically, into issues and topics I've always wanted to explore and learn more about. In addition, as I consider various routes to take beyond graduation, I am taking this opportunity to engage in a rigorous research project comparable to graduate school to get a better idea of which direction I'm hoping to head toward. Lastly, research has always impacted me in profound ways, so I can't wait for all the growth I'll experience because of my thesis journey.

What theme are you interested in exploring for your honors thesis? Why is it important to you?

I'm intrigued by the question of whether it's ever justified to defy Supreme Court decisions for what might be considered 'right' reasons. Such instances in American history are not plentiful. Still, one example of such an occurrence is when President Franklin Roosevelt planned to directly defy the Supreme Court’s decision in the Gold Clause cases. Although the Court surprised the President by ruling in his favor, leading to the President rolling back his plans to defy the Court, this instance offers good grounds to explore the central ideas in my thesis. I aim to examine the nature of such defiance and the criteria that define a 'right' reason. Considering the absence of an enforcement mechanism for Supreme Court decisions and historical instances of direct rejection that I find obviously unethical, I want to delve into the ethical dimensions of such acts, questioning if there are situations where it might be ethically justifiable to defy Supreme Court rulings. The Supreme Court’s controversial image today, in large part brought on by the Court’s overturning of Roe v. Wade, sparked my interest in this topic. Seeing the anger toward the Court and seeing talks arise regarding reforming the Court made me think about my topic of Supreme Court defiance.

What are some initial questions you have about your topic?

As I mentioned before, I am interested in what constitutes a 'right' reason to defy Supreme Court decisions. A ‘right’ reason could potentially be one that prevents harm from happening to individuals or one that prevents the rights of individuals from being circumvented or eroded. Another question I have about my topic is what happens when the order of checks and balances is disrupted today in our country in this specific instance, and what is the best course of action to take to rebound from such a potentially devastating occurrence?

What is something you’ve learned about ethics so far that has stood out to you? How did it change or expand your thinking?

Something I've learned about ethics related to my project that has intrigued me is the question of how the Supreme Court adapts to social and cultural changes in American society. Managing the equilibrium between constitutional principles and societal changes, particularly evident in cases concerning civil rights, women's rights, and LGBTQ+ rights, underscores the ethical intricacies confronting justices. I think this is also particularly salient in the ethical debate between judicial activism and judicial restraint.