Rule of Law

Supreme Court’s 2 cases on Biden student loan forgiveness plan will begin in February

Oral arguments for Department of Education v. Brown and Biden v. Nebraska will begin in the U.S. Supreme Court on Feb. 28 to determine the future of President Joe Biden’s student loan forgiveness plan.

In the Supreme Court’s upcoming evaluation of the constitutionality of President Biden’s loan forgiveness plan, the two cases call into question specifically the legal authority of the U.S. Department of Education, as well as whether states suing have the right to challenge the relief plan.

In August 2022, Biden announced a three-part student loan forgiveness plan which would provide $20,000 in debt cancellation to Pell Grant recipients and $10,000 to non-Pell Grant recipients. The plan outlined that borrowers would be eligible for relief if their income is less than $125,000 for individuals and less than $250,000 for married couples.

The plan saw immediate legal pushback in September and October, with two lawsuits making their way to the Supreme Court shortly after the Biden administration initially announced the student loan forgiveness plan.

The two lawsuits, filed in September and October, immediately followed Biden’s announcement of the plan. The Department of Education v. Brown invoked the Higher Education Relief Opportunities for Students Act of 2003, or HEROES Act, which addressed the Secretary of Education’s powers in the wake of a national emergency.

The lawsuit alleges the plaintiffs were ineligible for financial assistance under the plan because they were “improperly denied the opportunity to comment on the plan.”

On Wednesday, the judicial think tank Constitutional Accountability Center filed an amicus curiae, or a judicial brief from an outside group that has an interest in the case, arguing that long-standing economic difficulties for individuals with low or middle incomes were “amplified” as a result of the national emergency of the COVID-19 pandemic.

CAC’s brief adds that the HEROES Act gives the Secretary of Education broad authority to respond to national emergencies to ensure federal student-aid recipients “are not placed in a worse position financially in relation to that financial assistance because of their status as affected individuals.”

The HEROES Act authorizes the Secretary of Education to “waive or modify any requirement or regulation applicable to the student financial assistance programs… as deemed necessary,” according to the act. A change can only occur if certain criteria are met, such as if an individual “resides or is employed in an area that is declared a disaster area by any Federal, State, or local official in connection with a national emergency.”

On March 13, 2020, then-President Donald Trump declared a national emergency during the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic in the U.S. In February 2022, Biden extended the national emergency declaration until February 2023. The COVID-19 national emergency status allowed the Department of Education to “invoke” the pandemic to justify Biden’s loan forgiveness plan, according to a brief submitted by the states.

With Biden’s student loan forgiveness plan still in legal limbo, the Department of Education announced new regulations in a Jan. 10 press release that would make the student loan repayment process for low-income individuals simpler and more affordable by slashing monthly payments based on income.

In Biden v. Nebraska, six states filed a lawsuit claiming that the loan forgiveness program violates the U.S. Constitution’s principle of separation of powers and the Administrative Procedure Act. A district judge in Missouri dismissed the lawsuit on the basis that the states failed to demonstrate they had caused direct and traceable harm by the policy.

Following the Missouri judge’s ruling to dismiss six states’ claims that the plan violates the principle of separation of powers in Biden v. Nebraska, three judges from the 8th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals unanimously blocked the Biden administration from canceling student debt in November 2022.

For both Department of Education v. Brown and Biden v. Nebraska, the Supreme Court justices rejected the Biden administration’s requests to reinstate the program while the cases were still pending. But, the judges did agree to take up the cases to prevent further delays in the appeals courts.

In December 2022, The U.S. Department of Education filed a writ of certiorari, or a court process to review a lower-court or government agency decision, which received responses from both parties and was accepted on Dec. 12. In accepting the request, the Court agreed to hear the case in February.

Cardona in November called the lawsuits “baseless,” adding that the Biden-Haris administration is “as committed as ever” to delivering student debt relief for Americans.

“Callous efforts to block student debt relief in the courts have caused tremendous financial uncertainty for millions of borrowers who cannot set their family budgets or even plan for the holidays without a clear picture of their student debt obligations, and it’s just plain wrong,” Cardona said.

More from Rule of Law

Rule of Law
U.S. Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit

Allstates Refractory Contractors, LLC v. Walsh

In Allstates v. Walsh, the United States Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit is considering whether OSHA’s statutory authority to establish workplace safety standards is an unconstitutional delegation of legislative power.
Rule of Law
January 26, 2023

White House Under Pressure to Develop a ‘Plan B’ on Student Debt

Bloomberg News
WASHINGTON (TNS) — The Biden administration is under pressure from Capitol Hill lawmakers and student...
By: Smita Ghosh, By Nancy Cook and Akayla Gardne
Rule of Law
U.S. Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit

National Shooting Sports Foundation, Inc. v. James

In National Shooting Sports Foundation v. James, the United States Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit is considering whether a New York gun regulation violates the Constitution’s Commerce Clause.
Rule of Law
January 10, 2023

HEROES Act at Center of Debt-Relief Legal Fight

Inside Higher ED
Executive overreach or legal use of statutory authority? That will be a key question for...
By: Smita Ghosh, by Katherine Knott
Rule of Law
January 11, 2023

RELEASE: Statutory Text and History Make Clear that the Student Debt Relief Plan Is Authorized by the HEROES Act, Constitutional Accountability Center Amicus Brief on Behalf of Former Representative George Miller Argues

WASHINGTON, DC – Earlier today, the Constitutional Accountability Center (CAC) filed a brief at the...
By: Smita Ghosh
Rule of Law
January 6, 2023

BLOG: In Remembrance of January 6th: Accountability Work in Progress

Today is January 6th, the anniversary of one of the darkest days in our democracy’s...
By: Qadir Ahmad