The Supreme Court (SC) on Tuesday heard arguments from two related cases: one brought by six states and the other by two individuals, Myra Brown and Alexander Taylor, who have student loan debt.
The plaintiffs said President Joe Biden’s proposal violates the Constitution and federal law, in part because it circumvents Congress, which they say has the sole authority to create laws related to student loan forgiveness.
In the first case, Joe Biden v. Nebraska, a majority of the justices appeared skeptical that Congress gave clear enough authorization for the Biden administration to forgive billions of dollars in student debt.
But conservative Justice Amy Coney Barrett joined the court’s three liberals in questioning whether a group of Republican-led states had legal standing to challenge President Biden’s plan.
U.S. Solicitor General Elizabeth Prelogar, representing the administration, cited the Higher Education Relief Opportunities for Students, or HEROES, Act, which was passed following the 9/11 terror attacks to aid Iraq and Afghanistan veterans, although it also applies to national emergencies.
A number of justices referenced the “major questions” doctrine, which requires Congress to speak clearly when authorizing an agency to decide matters of vast economic and political significance.
The law gives the Education secretary authority to “waive or modify” federal student financial assistance programs “as the Secretary deems necessary in connection with a war or other military operation or national emergency.”
“We’re talking about half-a-trillion dollars and 43 million Americans. How does that fit under the normal understanding of modify?” asked Chief Justice John Roberts, who repeatedly stressed the large price tag during the argument.
Past August, Biden´s administration announced it would forgive part of the student loan incurred by nearly 40 million citizens to pay for their college educations.
The measure included forgiving the student loan payment of up to $10,000 for borrowers with incomes below $125,000 per year and exempting beneficiaries of the Pell Grant program (which helps low-income families) from paying $20,000.