Justice Barrett throws out challenge to Biden loan forgiveness plan
A lawsuit claiming the president overstepped his authority by absolving student loan debt for tens of millions of Americans failed to gain traction at the high court.
The Supreme Court on Thursday rejected an attempt to temporarily block President Joe Biden’s student loan debt forgiveness plan.
Justice Amy Coney Barrett — who is assigned emergency applications for Seventh Circuit cases — denied the application without asking for any additional briefing from the Biden administration or referring the case to the full court. Barrett did not provide an explanation for her ruling on the application.
The challenge originated from a conservative law firm representing Wisconsin taxpayers. The group claimed Biden had overstepped his authority by absolving tens of millions of Americans' loan debt and asked the Supreme Court to halt the enforcement of the president’s plan on Tuesday.
“It simply cannot be the law that a President can hand out a trillion dollars with impunity,” Richard Esenberg, an attorney for the Wisconsin Institute for Law & Liberty, wrote in the application.
In August, Biden announced he would fulfill a key campaign promise by forgiving up to $20,000 of student loan debt for certain borrowers. Democrats have long lobbied for a solution to the ever-mounting cost of college. Biden decided to use the COVID-19 pandemic to justify using his executive power to give voters a solution.
The Higher Education Relief Opportunities for Students, or HEROES, Act of 2003 gives the education secretary authority to waive rules related to financial aid programs in times of war or national emergency. The Covid-19 national emergency caused economic hardship for many, and Biden claims forcing millions of Americans to pay down additional debt would worsen their financial positions further.
Many experts were concerned Biden’s use of executive authority would not pass muster at the high court after a controversial ruling last term involving the Environmental Protection Agency. The conservative majority said that federal agencies need explicit congressional authority to take “major” actions with large economic and political significance.
The taxpayers’ challenge cited this exact ruling, claiming Biden’s debt relief program should fall under the major questions doctrine.
“There is no legal justification for this presidential usurpation of the constitutional spending power, which is reserved exclusively for Congress,” Esenberg wrote. “This step, which is certainly a major question under cases such as West Virginia v. EPA, is predicated on a law passed under different circumstances to accomplish different purposes for different beneficiaries.”
Biden’s plan has seen a string of challenges since it was announced. Last week a group of Republican-led states asked a federal judge in St. Louis to block the program.
The taxpayers’ suit has struggled in their bid to halt Biden’s plan. Their Supreme Court application came after losses in the district court and Seventh Circuit.
A flaw the lower courts have found with the suit is that to bring a challenge, the taxpayers must show they have actually been harmed by Biden’s plan. The Biden administration has altered its program to counter challenges, forcing the taxpayers to use a seldom-used framework. The group claims the debt assumed by Biden forgiving almost a trillion dollars in debt will impact American taxpayers and, therefore, they are harmed by the plan.