Student loan borrowers who were thrilled last year that the feds were canceling up to $20,000 in debt might end up paying that, as Supreme Court justices on Tuesday sounded skeptical of President Biden’s student loan forgiveness plan.
Conservative justices, including Chief Justice John Roberts, spent Tuesday’s court hearing questioning Biden administration lawyers about the president citing the COVID-19 national emergency as the reason for wiping out student loans.
Justices implied that the administration had exceeded its authority with the student loan forgiveness program, and Roberts in particular noted the program’s cost, which would be about $400 billion over 30 years.
“I think most casual observers would say if you’re going to give up that much amount of money, if you’re going to affect the obligations of that many Americans on a subject that’s of great controversy, they would think that’s something for Congress to act on,” Roberts said.
The chief justice also brought up the fairness of some people benefitting from loan forgiveness, while others would miss out. He compared a high school graduate who took out college loans and another high school grad who got a loan for a business.
“Nobody is telling the person who was trying to set up the lawn service business that he doesn’t have to pay his loan,” Roberts said.
Justice Samuel Alito, another conservative justice on the 6–3 majority conservative court, said, “Why is it fair? Why is it fair to the people who didn’t get arguably comparable relief?”
Justice Brett Kavanaugh noted that Congress did not pass student loan relief, so Biden implemented the program in the executive branch. That “seems problematic,” Kavanaugh said.
Republican-appointed judges have kept Biden’s student loan forgiveness plan from going into effect. About 26 million people have applied for forgiveness, and 16 million applications have been approved — but relief has been in limbo because of the lower court rulings.
Teachers’ union president Randi Weingarten melts down at protest outside the court.
When implementing the plan to nix student loan debt, the president cited the Higher Education Relief Opportunities for Students Act, or the HEROES Act. Under that law, the secretary of education can waive or modify the terms of federal student loans due to a national emergency.
Biden’s top Supreme Court lawyer, U.S. Solicitor General Elizabeth Prelogar, argued that rejecting the administration’s plan would go against the will of Congress, and the HEROES Act.
Justice Elena Kagan, on the liberal side of the court, said this law to help student loan borrowers during national emergencies “doesn’t get much clearer.”
Meanwhile, outside the court on Tuesday, U.S. Rep. Ayanna Pressley rallied for student debt relief.
“The people demand and deserve student debt cancellation,” the Massachusetts lawmaker said. “Student debt cancellation will change and save lives.”
“The Court knows President Biden has the legal authority to cancel student debt,” she later added. “And they have a clear and simple choice here: Uphold the law and we can call it a day.”
U.S. Sen. Elizabeth Warren tweeted, “If the Supreme Court ignores the president’s clear legal authority & strikes down student debt cancellation, it will be a punch in the gut to millions of hardworking Americans.”
Herald wire services were used in this report.
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