Rule of Law

RELEASE: Justices Invoke Broad Statutory Authority Supporting Biden Administration Student Debt Relief Plan at Supreme Court Oral Argument this Morning

WASHINGTON, DC – Following oral argument at the Supreme Court this morning in Biden v. Nebraska, the first of two cases in which the Court is considering challenges to the Biden administration student debt relief plan, Constitutional Accountability Center Appellate Counsel Smita Ghosh issued the following reaction:

The states challenging the Biden administration student debt relief plan argue that Congress did not give the Education Secretary the authority to relieve student debt in this way. Former Representative George Miller, one of the chief architects of the law that authorized the student debt relief plan, disagreed in a brief filed by the Constitutional Accountability Center. That brief demonstrated that the lawmakers who passed the Act gave the Secretary broad discretion to help borrowers affected by national emergencies.

Several Justices echoed Rep. Miller’s brief during today’s oral argument. As Justice Kagan noted, “Congress doesn’t get much clearer” than the Act’s text, which allows the Secretary to “waive or modify” rules relating to student loans, including those that identify the student debts the Education Department can reduce or discharge. “We worry about executive power when Congress hasn’t authorized use of executive power,” Justice Kagan said before adding that the Secretary is acting “within Congress’s authorization.”

Justice Sotomayor made a similar point, noting that the question before the Court is not the “amount of money,” but “Congress’s intent” to ensure that the Education Secretary can provide relief to student borrowers during periods of national emergencies. As she explained, reading the statute more narrowly than its text supports would put student borrowers at risk. “They are going to continue to suffer from this pandemic in a way the general public doesn’t,” she explained, adding that the states’ arguments would give judges, rather than experts, “the right to decide” how to help these borrowers.

As Rep. Miller’s brief makes clear, Congress gave the experts at the Education Department the broad authority to determine what “waivers” or “modifications” could best protect student borrowers in national emergencies. The Court should respect the law that Rep. Miller and his colleagues passed. Doing otherwise would not only hurt the ability of the Education Department to respond to future national emergencies, it would also harm the millions of student loan borrowers currently struggling as a result of this one.



Case page in Biden v. Nebraska and Department of Education v. Brown:

George Miller, Can Biden legally cancel student debt? There’s no question, Feb. 22, 2023: 


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