Supreme Court Justices Skeptical of Debt Relief
Inside Higher Ed
March 1, 2023
Several Supreme Court justices appeared skeptical of the Biden administration’s plan to forgive up to $20,000 in federal student loans during a nearly four-hour hearing Tuesday.
As expected, the hearing focused on whether federal statute allows the Biden administration to forgive student loans, whether the plaintiffs have standing to challenge the plan and whether the justices should apply a stricter standard in their review of the two lawsuits before the court.
The court’s six conservative justices homed in on questions of fairness and what Congress intended when it authorized the education secretary in 2003 to “waive” or “modify” provisions of student loan programs to ensure that those affected by a national emergency aren’t worse off financially.
The conservative justices seemed to think the Biden plan was too large to say it was a modification. “We’re talking about half a trillion dollars and 43 million Americans,” Chief Justice John Roberts Jr. said. “How does that fit under the normal understanding of modifying?”
Six states—Arkansas, Iowa, Kansas, Missouri, Nebraska and South Carolina—and two Texas residents filed separate lawsuits in the fall to block the debt-relief plan before it began. The states allege that the plan would harm state revenues and agencies that hold student loans, while the Texas individuals take issue with the fact that they didn’t have a chance to comment on the proposal.
Both sets of plaintiffs argue that the Higher Education Relief Opportunities for Students Act of 2003, which the Biden administration says justifies its debt-relief plan, does not authorize that plan.