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US Supreme Court weighs Biden’s college student debt relief

Joe Biden wants to cancel millions of student debt with education loans, but critics argue he has overstepped his authority.

The fate of US President Joe Biden’s plan to cancel $430 billion in student debt for 40 million borrowers rests with the Supreme Court in a case that poses yet another major test of the executive’s authority in the United States. States.

The nine justices will hear arguments on Tuesday in the Biden administration’s appeal against two lower court rulings blocking the policy he announced in August. The legal challenges were spearheaded by six conservative-leaning states and two student loan borrowers who opposed the plan’s eligibility requirements.

Under the president’s plan, the U.S. government would forgive up to $10,000 in federal student debt to Americans earning less than $125,000 who took out loans to pay for college and other post-secondary education. That amount would increase to $20,000 for recipients of Pell scholarships awarded to students from lower-income families.

The program fulfilled Biden’s 2020 campaign pledge to forgive a portion of the nation’s $1.6 trillion in federal student loan debt, but was criticized by Republicans as stretching too far for his authority.

The policy, designed to ease the financial burden on indebted borrowers, could be scrutinized in court under the so-called big questions doctrine. The conservative 6-to-3 majority has used this muscular judicial approach to nullify Biden’s policies, which it said lacked clear congressional authorization.

The Biden administration has said the plan was approved under a 2003 federal law, the Higher Education Relief Opportunities for Students Act, or HEROES Act, which allows student loan debt relief in wartime or national emergencies.

Many borrowers experienced financial strain during the COVID-19 pandemic, a declared public health emergency. As of 2020, the administrations of President Donald Trump, a Republican, and Biden, a Democrat, repeatedly halted federal student loan payments and stopped accruing interest, relying on the HEROES Act to do so.

The Biden administration maintains that the challengers have not suffered the kind of legal damages necessary to give them the proper standing to pursue their lawsuits. The challengers have said the Biden administration has not provided sufficient legal justification for the program.

Protesters demonstrate for student debt forgiveness outside the US Supreme Court ahead of discussions on President Joe Biden’s debt relief plan (Patrick Semansky/AP Photo)

In the legal challenge brought by individual borrowers Myra Brown and Alexander Taylor, Texas-based U.S. District Court Judge Mark Pittman ruled that the student loan forgiveness program lacked “clear congressional authorization.” The New Orleans-based 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals declined to stay Pittman’s decision pending an appeal.

Judge Henry Autrey, based in the U.S. District Court in Missouri, found that the states of Arkansas, Iowa, Kansas, Missouri, Nebraska and South Carolina did not have the legal standing to file a lawsuit. On appeal, the St. Louis-based 8th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals ruled at least that Missouri had probable legal standing and that the court temporarily blocked the Biden program while the case was underway.

One legal status theory put forth by the states is that Biden’s plan would harm a Missouri-based student loan administrator, a company involved in collecting payments, effectively harming that state.

The two individual borrowers have said that the government’s failure to provide public comment on Biden’s student debt forgiveness plan has deprived them of “procedural rights” under federal law.