Supreme Court’s Conservative Majority Wary Of Biden’s Student Loan Forgiveness Plan


The Supreme Court’s conservative justices questioned the legality of President Joe Biden’s student loan forgiveness program Tuesday, as the court heard arguments in two cases from plaintiffs suing to stop Biden from eliminating many Americans’ student debt.

Key Facts

Both cases heard by the Supreme Court on Tuesday argued that the Biden Administration overstepped its authority by offering student loan forgiveness to millions of borrowers: One case was was brought by six GOP-led states that say loan forgiveness could harm a Missouri-based loan servicer, and a separate case was brought forward by two individual borrowers backed by the conservative Job Creators Network.

Solicitor General Elizabeth Prelogar—who represented the government—said the Biden Administration is permitted to cancel student debt in response to the Covid-19 pandemic, though Justice Brett Kavanaugh argued “some of the biggest mistakes in the court’s history were deferring to assertions of executive or emergency power.”

Justice John Roberts pushed back on Prelogar’s argument that Biden can cancel loans under the HEROES Act of 2003, which gives the federal government the power to modify student loan programs during national emergencies, suggesting Congress needed to more explicitly give Biden the power to take such a drastic action—a concept known as the “major questions doctrine.”

The court’s remaining liberal justices were more open to the government’s case: Justice Elena Kagan supported Prelogar’s argument justifying relief under the HEROES Act, noting the law contained “very broad language,” while Justice Sonia Sotomayor suggested that people who do not receive loan relief “will struggle.”

Sotomayor said arguments made by the Job Creators Network plaintiffs—who suggested the program be shut down because they were not eligible for relief—were “totally illogical,” and continually supported the student loan relief program, noting there are many who “don’t have assets sufficient to bail them out after the pandemic.”

During a hearing for the case brought by six GOP-led states, conservative Justice Amy Coney Barrett notably appeared to question whether the states had standing to sue, and asked why the states didn’t “strong-arm” the loan servicer—which is an agency created by the Missouri state government—into suing the federal government instead.

What To Watch For

A decision by the Supreme Court on both cases could take up to three months, though legal experts cited by Bloomberg and CNN project that the 6-3 conservative court will overturn the student loan forgiveness program and leave the decision to Congress.

Big Number

26 million. That’s how many people applied for student loan forgiveness before the program suspended applications, representing more than half of the 43 million eligible, according to Education Secretary Miguel Cardona.

Key Background

The Biden Administration announced last August it would forgive $10,000 in federal student debt for borrowers earning less than $125,000, or $20,000 for Pell Grant recipients. The White House has argued the Covid-19 pandemic justified student loan forgiveness because it had negatively impacted many borrowers’ finances. Student loan payments have remained paused since 2020 due to the pandemic. Applications for the forgiveness program opened in October, but were suspended a few weeks later as lower courts blocked funds from being disbursed. The Supreme Court decided to take up two lawsuits against the program in December, after Barrett rejected multiple legal challenges to the program that were considered legally weaker. The Biden Administration has argued it has the authority to implement the loan forgiveness program, while its challengers do not have standing to bring the lawsuits in the first place and should be thrown out. Republicans have continued to fight against the program, calling it a “short-sighted answer that would crush American taxpayers.”

Further Reading

Student Debt Forgiveness At Supreme Court Tuesday—Here’s What You Need To Know (Forbes)

Supreme Court Will Hear Second Case On Biden’s Student Loan Forgiveness (Forbes)