Thomas Gallatin / December 5, 2022

The Justices Will Weigh ‘Forgiving’ Student Loans

The Supreme Court will decide what is clearly a significant separation-of-powers case.

The U.S. Supreme Court has agreed to take up a significant case regarding the separation-of-powers doctrine inherent in the Constitution. At issue is whether Joe Biden has the authority to bypass Congress and unilaterally cancel billions of dollars in student loan debt.

The justices agreed to hear the case after both the Fifth Circuit and Eighth Circuit Courts of Appeal ordered a pause on the implementation of Biden’s debt cancellation plan until lawsuits are adjudicated. It is telling that SCOTUS elected to jump in and hear the case rather than let the lower courts rule on the cases. This indicates that the justices see this as a significant case that needs to be dealt with sooner rather than later.

Considering the comments of North Texas District Judge Mark Pittman, who called Biden’s cancellation plan an “unconstitutional exercise of Congress’s legislative power,” it’s little wonder that the Court would want to weigh in before the order has a chance to go into effect. Judge Pittman further contended, “No one can plausibly deny that it is either one of the largest delegations of legislative power to the executive branch, or one of the largest exercises of legislative power without congressional authority in the history of the United States.”

Biden’s gambit is reminiscent of Barack Obama’s action on Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA), as Biden, like Obama, first asserted that he did not have the authority to unilaterally cancel upwards of $20,000 per borrower in federal student loan debt a few months before he went ahead and ordered it anyway. Obama’s unilateral implementation of DACA was just as unconstitutional as Biden’s student loan cancellation plan, but since DACA went into effect it has proven nearly impossible to end, and that is the same problem presented by Biden’s plan. Once the cancellations start happening, good luck trying to reverse course.

It would appear that the Biden administration knows that it stands on weak legal ground — Biden stretched the 2003 Heroes Act, which gives him authority over military student loans, to include the entire American population. Therefore, the administration is arguing that the six Republican lead states that brought one of the lawsuits don’t have legal standing, irrespective of the merits of their argument.

Thankfully, it does not appear that the Court agrees with that argument, as the justices simply could have let the issue play out in the lower courts before stepping in. “The Court’s decision to hear the case on an expedited basis suggests at least four Justices are concerned about the weighty constitutional questions,” observes the Wall Street Journal editorial board. “If the Justices agreed with the Administration’s argument that the states lacked standing to sue because they aren’t really harmed by the loan cancellation, the Court could have simply vacated the Eighth Circuit’s injunction. The cancellations would have proceeded, and the issue would be moot.”

The Court will hear arguments in February with an expected ruling coming in June. In the meantime, Biden has extended for nine more months the pause on student loan repayments justified by the COVID pandemic he said months ago was “over.” The political consequences of the Court’s ruling promise to be far beyond a question of canceling billions in student loan debt and putting American taxpayers on the hook for it. Reeling back the executive branch’s power overreach is the bigger issue.

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