The six conservative Supreme Court justices ruled on Friday that President Joe Biden’s student loan debt relief plan is unconstitutional.
The 6-3 Decision The law, authored by Chief Justice John Roberts, means the debts of the 26 million Americans who signed up for the debt relief program will no longer be partially or fully paid off.
Biden announced his plan in August 2022 to forgive up to $20,000 in student loan debt for more than 40 million borrowers. The plan approved a $20,000 relief for Pell grant recipients and a $10,000 relief for other borrowers earning less than $125,000 per year in 2020 or 2021. At the Approving the forgiveness plan, Biden referred to his authority under the HEROES Act of 2003, enacted after September 11, 2001, to “waive” or “amend” the terms of student loan debt during a national emergency — in this case, the Covid-19 pandemic.
But the court had a different opinion. Roberts said in his statement that Biden does not have the authority under the HEROES Act to service student loan debt.
“It is our opinion today that the Act authorizes the Minister to repeal or amend any existing statutory or regulatory provision applicable to financial assistance programs under the Education Act, and not to reformulate that Act from scratch,” Roberts wrote .
“The power to ‘amend’ laws and regulations allows the minister to make minor adjustments and additions to existing regulations, not to transform them,” he added.
Roberts went on to state that the “changes” in student loan payments were not “moderate” or “minor” as his definition of “change” required. Instead, “they have developed a novel and fundamentally different loan forgiveness program.”
The ruling also found that the debt relief plan violated the court’s “major questions” doctrine.
This doctrine allows the court to declare executive branch policy unconstitutional that the court believes has not been approved by Congress if a majority of justices agree that the policy is too “significant.” Its application is highly subjective.
The principal question doctrine acts as an “from-the-text freedom map” that conservative judges “magically appear” when they see executive branch policies that run counter to their ideological “goals,” Justice Elena Kagan wrote in a dissent in the West Virginia v. EPA case in 2022.
While the HEROES Act is pretty clear that the president can “forgive” or “amend” the terms of government-held student loan debt, the court’s conservatives ruled that Congress did not mean the president could forgive debt. The debt relief plan was “substantial” unconstitutional.
The Biden administration has refused to come up with a “Plan B” in the event the court invalidates their program. What comes next for student borrowers remains to be seen.
In a separate Opinion When two students challenged the policy, the court dismissed the lawsuit for lack of standing.
This is an evolving story. Please check again for updates.