Justices on the right sided with their liberal colleagues and US Solicitor General Elizabeth P. Prelogger seemed unsatisfied with claims that blocking the program would actually override the will of Congress, which gave the secretary of education the ability to pay off student loan debt in emergencies. .
Liberal Justice Elena Kagan noted that the Court often has difficulty understanding Congress’ intent in enacting legislation. “It’s not,” he said, referring to the Affordable Higher Education Opportunities for Students Act of 2003. “Congress is still unclear.”
Roberts said lawmakers would have to get involved for the Biden administration to launch such a broad plan: “If you’re going to affect the obligations, if you’re going to give up that much money, I think most casual observers would say, on a topic that’s so controversial, among many Americans, they think it’s something that Congress needs to act on.” will think
The court’s conservative justices expressed concern about the fairness of granting loan forgiveness to some and not to others. Roberts presented a fictional scenario involving two high school graduates — one taking out a loan to attend college, the other taking out a loan to start a lawn care business.
Why is it fair, he asked the prelogger, that the owner of a lawn service should subsidize college graduates through tax-paying loan forgiveness?
“No one is telling a person who’s trying to set up a lawn service business that he doesn’t have to pay the bills,” Roberts said.
“Why is this fair?” Justice Samuel Alito added. “Why is this fair to people who are arguably not getting comparable relief?”
Preloger, again backed by the court’s three liberal justices, said Congress approved — a law specifically aimed at student loan borrowers, not those who dropped out of college to start a business or because of the cost. Congress may have other plans that work, Kagan said.
Tuesday’s oral arguments touched on several issues important to the court, including doubts about the executive branch’s ability to do so without specific congressional authorization — the so-called substantive questions doctrine — and the ability of opposing government officials. Even before the president’s priorities take effect.
The questions indicated that the administration’s best hope would be to find that neither the states nor the two individual borrowers who challenged the debt-forgiveness program had legal standing to do so. But it appeared that there would be a majority in the court to go to the merits of the cases.
Under the HEROES Act, which allows the education secretary to waive or replace loans in response to a national emergency, Education Secretary Miguel Cardona proposed a plan that would affect more than 40 million borrowers, half of whom would have their balances wiped out. It will eliminate up to $10,000 in student loans for borrowers earning up to $125,000 a year or up to $250,000 for married couples. Recipients of Pell Grants, a form of financial aid for low- and moderate-income students, are eligible for an additional $10,000 in forgiveness.
Read our live updates from Tuesday’s oral arguments
In the past, the court has stopped initiatives by the Biden administration, particularly those relying on emergency powers. It repealed a pandemic-era ban on evictions by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention; overturned a coronavirus vaccination or testing mandate imposed on large businesses by the Occupational Safety and Health Administration; He cited the doctrine of “key questions” to limit the Environmental Protection Agency’s options for combating climate change.
A key gateway to challenging a loan forgiveness program is showing legal standing. Plaintiffs must show that they suffered a specific injury rather than a general injury that can be remedied by federal court relief. In this case, it is not enough to object to the scale of the program or even to accuse the President of overstepping his authority.
A panel of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 8th Circuit found that the Missouri Higher Education Loan Commission, a semi-independent organization that issues loans, could suffer losses from a program change affecting Missouri and found a way to proceed with the case. One of the challenge states. Another court ruled that two borrowers, Myra Brown and Alexander Taylor, should proceed. Taylor is ineligible for the $20,000 amnesty, while Brown is completely ineligible.
Preloger strongly opposed both of those decisions. The Missouri debt authority is independent of the state in many ways, he noted, and he chose not to prosecute on his own. Preloger said Brown and Taylor’s challenges would not benefit them, but rather ensure that no one gets relief from the loan forgiveness program.
Although it was a campaign promise, even Biden expressed doubts about his ability to wipe out student loans on his own. The president initially ordered the education and justice departments to submit notes on his executive authority to forgive loans, but expressed skepticism.
Senate Majority Leader Charles E. Schumer (DNY.), Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) and Rep. Ayanna Presley (D-Mass.) was convinced Biden could use the same power to cancel the Trump administration’s debt. Used to temporarily waive student loan payments during the pandemic, the moratorium has been extended several times and continues today. Other Democrats aren’t so sure. In July 2021, then-House Speaker Nancy Pelosi said, “People think the president of the United States has the power to forgive the debt. He didn’t. “
But the Biden administration found authority in the HEROES Act, which allows the education secretary to “waive or modify any statutory or regulatory provisions that may apply” to federal student loan programs. The Act authorizes assistance to individuals affected by national emergencies and to ensure that they are not “financially disadvantaged” in relation to their debts.
Legal battles have crippled millions of student loan borrowers. More than half of those eligible had applied for the amnesty program, and the Department of Education had approved about 16 million applications before the courts halted it. The department has promised borrowers that the administration will waive the loan if it wins in court.
Cases are Biden v. Nebraska And US Department of Education v. Brown.
This is a growing story.