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Conservative Supreme Court justices appear skeptical of Biden’s student loan forgiveness plan Story-level




WASHINGTON – Conservative Supreme Court justices were skeptical Tuesday about the legality of President Joe Biden’s student loan debt relief plan, though questions remain about whether the challengers have the legal standing to sue.

The program, which would allow eligible borrowers to cancel up to $20,000 in debt, has been on hold since the US Court of Appeals for the 8th Circuit issued a temporary stay in October, and there are great doubts it will ever come into effect. validity.

The challengers argue that the administration’s proposal, announced by Biden in August and originally scheduled to take effect last fall, violates the Constitution and federal law, in part because it circumvents Congress, which they said has the sole power to create laws related to student loan forgiveness. .

The judges could decide the case based on a legal argument put forward by the challengers that the Supreme Court has recently adopted called the “principal issues doctrine.” Under that theory, federal agencies cannot initiate radical new policies that have a significant economic impact without express authorization from Congress.

Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., outside the Supreme Court Tuesday.Drew Angerer/Getty Images

The conservative majority cited the leading questions doctrine last year by blocking Biden’s Covid vaccination or testing requirement for larger companies and curbing the Environmental Protection Agency’s authority to limit carbon emissions from power plants.

A key fundamental question is whether any of the challengers have legal standing to sue in the first place. Many observers think that if the court, which has a 6-3 conservative majority, finds that the challengers had the right to sue, it will almost certainly conclude that Biden’s plan is illegal.

The Biden administration says debt relief is allowed under a 2003 law called the Higher Education Relief Opportunities for Students Act, or HEROES Act. The law states that the government can provide relief to student loan recipients when there is a “national emergency,” allowing it to take steps to ensure that people are not “in a worse financial position” as a result of the emergency.

Challengers say the HEROES Act’s language is not specific enough to authorize a proposal as broad as Biden’s plan.

Of the six conservative judges, only Judge Amy Coney Barrett repeatedly inquired as to whether the challengers had legal capacity. Chief Justice John Roberts and Justice Brett Kavanaugh, two justices the Biden administration may have been targeting as possible votes against the nomination, focused their questions on the doctrine of leading questions. That could indicate they believe the challengers have position.

“Now, we take very seriously the idea of ​​the separation of powers and that power must be divided to prevent its abuse,” said Roberts. She added that the case reminded her of the court’s decision to block the Trump administration from unilaterally ending the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program.

“And I wonder, given the stance of the case and given our historical concern about the separation of powers, would you at least acknowledge that this is a case that raises extraordinarily serious and important questions about the role of Congress and the role that we should exercise in scrutinizing that,” he added.

Student debt relief advocates gather in front of the Supreme Court on February 28, 2023.
Student debt relief advocates gather in front of the Supreme Court on February 28, 2023.Andrew Caballero-Reynolds / AFP – Getty Images

Kavanaugh cited the other recent cases in which the court cited the leading questions doctrine in ruling against the government and suggested that the student loan plan followed a similar pattern.

“That seems problematic,” he said. In a later comment, Kavanaugh appeared more supportive of the administration, noting that the HEROES Act’s language was “extremely broad” in granting authority to the Department of Education.

Conservative Justice Neil Gorsuch also raised the issue of the fairness of paying off student loan debt for some borrowers and not others, “For example, people who have paid off their loans, people who have not… planned their lives around no loans and people who are not eligible to seek loans in the first place.

The court is hearing two cases, one brought by six states, including Missouri, and the other brought by two people, Myra Brown and Alexander Taylor, who have student loan debt.

The program would affect more than 40 million borrowers and cost approximately $400 billion.

Of the various challengers, Missouri may have the best case to run based on its association with Missouri Higher Education Loan Autohoity, a state-created entity that services many student loans. The Supreme Court only has to find that a challenger has the legal standing to get to the bottom of the case.

Student debt relief advocates gather in front of the Supreme Court on February 27, 2023.Patrick Semansky/AP

Barrett, as well as the liberal justices, questioned whether Missouri could rely on that agency’s role to assert that the state has standing based on the fact that the corporation is a separate entity from the state that is not involved in the litigation.

She questioned how the agency would benefit from a victory for the state, wondering why Missouri lawyers couldn’t “force” the corporation into joining the lawsuit.

Both Biden and his predecessor, Donald Trump, cited the HEROES Act when suspending loan payments during the pandemic. Although Biden plans to end the Covid emergency in May, this should not affect his loan plan, his administration says, because it addresses the economic damage that has occurred during the pandemic.

Most liberal justices appeared to support the Biden administration’s legal arguments, with Justice Elena Kagan challenging the challengers’ argument that the law does not give the administration the authority to take such broad measures.

“Congress could not have made this much clearer,” he said.

Liberal Justice Sonia Sotomayor said that if the court were to rule against the Biden administration, it would be “changing the words of Congress because we don’t think we like what’s happening.”

“There are 50 million students who will benefit from this, who will struggle today,” Sotomayor said.

Supporters of Biden’s plan demonstrated in front of the court before oral arguments. A sign held up by a protester read: “Student Loan Debt Cancellation Is Not Illegal!” Another sign read “40 million families need student loan relief now.”

Speaking to the crowd, Sen. Bob Menendez, DN.J., urged the court to “do the right thing.”

Biden’s program would cancel up to $10,000 in debt for borrowers making less than $125,000 a year (or couples filing jointly and making less than $250,000 a year). Pell Grant recipients, who are the majority of borrowers, would be eligible for an additional $10,000 in debt relief. The overall program could help more than 40 million borrowers, the administration said.

The administration closed the application process after the plan was blocked. Student loan debt holders currently do not have to make payments as part of the Covid relief measures that will remain in place until after the Supreme Court issues its ruling.

The nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office estimated in September that Biden’s plan would cost $400 billion.

The Supreme Court is expected to rule on the cases in late June.

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