Biden wins two court rulings on student loan forgiveness

Federal judge finds states don’t have standing to challenge debt cancellation, while Supreme Court justice sets aside emergency appeal

October 21, 2022
The Supreme Court of the United States building Washington, D.C.
Source: iStock

The Biden administration has won two preliminary victories in the defence of its student loan forgiveness programme, including a favourable ruling from a conservative Supreme Court justice.

Just as the programme granting up to $20,000 (£18,000) in federal student loan debt cancellation takes effect, Justice Amy Coney Barrett denied an emergency application from a taxpayer group in Wisconsin seeking to block it.

Separately, in a potentially more substantive case, a federal judge in Missouri dismissed outright a similar attempt by six Republican-led states, saying the states lacked the necessary legal standing.

President Joe Biden outlined the plan in August, largely fulfilling a promise during the 2020 presidential campaign to tackle a nationwide accumulation of student debt estimated at more than $1.6 trillion among some 43 million borrowers.

Republicans and even some Democrats have raised concern over the budgetary cost, the randomness of the benefit, and the risk it might fuel higher college costs while aiding people who don’t need it.

One of the most vocal critics in Congress, Virginia Foxx, the top-ranking Republican on the House Committee on Education and Labor, promised the court rulings would not mark the end of the matter.

“This is an illegal action and there are multiple pending lawsuits,” Ms Foxx said in a written response.

The leader of the six-state coalition, Leslie Rutledge, the attorney general of Arkansas, promised her group “will immediately appeal this decision” by US District Judge Henry Autrey – like Justice Barrett, a Republican appointee. The other states joining Arkansas in the case are Iowa, Kansas, Missouri, Nebraska and South Carolina.

Federal law is understood to let the president grant such benefits in an emergency, though opponents have challenged Mr Biden’s reliance on Covid as sufficient circumstances at this point in the pandemic. Such opponents, however, have been described as struggling for weeks to find a plaintiff that could legally present a claim of harm to a court.

The Wisconsin claim was brought on behalf of a group known as the Brown County Taxpayers Association. Justice Barrett’s rejection of its request appeared not to involve the entire Supreme Court.

The legal rulings on the matter in favour of the administration came two days after Mr Biden held a White House ceremony to celebrate the student loan forgiveness programme by formally announcing the opening of a government website to process the claims.

“This is a game-changer for millions of Americans,” the president said. “We had over 10,000 people contact the White House and be – either send us letters or calls thanking us.”

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