Supreme Court’s Student-Loan Case Will Test Limits of Presidential Power

student loan cases

Student loan forgiveness is about to have its day in court. On Tuesday, the Supreme Court will begin hearing oral arguments in two cases challenging the legality of President Joe Biden’s student debt forgiveness plan. 

The court’s decision, expected later this year, could torpedo Biden’s ability to pursue other policies unilaterally – such as on abortion and immigration. 

Experts say the issue is much bigger than student loans. It’s about the power of the courts and the power of the president. 

So far, Republican-appointed judges have kept the Democratic president’s plan from going into effect, and it remains to be seen how the court, dominated 6-3 by conservatives, will respond. 

The program would cancel up to $20,000 in debt for as many as 40 million borrowers. It is a move that the Biden administration says it put in place to help with the “financial harms” caused by the Covid pandemic. 

Not everyone is on board with the program. Multiple groups have sued, and the Supreme Court has agreed to consider two of those cases. 

The Supreme Court is hearing two challenges to the plan. One involves six Republican-led states that sued. The other involves a lawsuit filed by two students.

In one of the cases, six states say that Biden does not have the authority to cancel student debt en masse, and states were possibly harmed by the measure and that Biden’s using the pandemic to fulfill a campaign promise of erasing student debt. 

In the second case, two individuals backed by a conservative advocacy group say that they, and the rest of the public, were denied a “procedural right” to comment on the plan.

The Biden administration says that the parties behind both legal challenges failed to show harm from the policy, so they lacked the legal standing to sue in the first place.

The justices are expected to be focused on several big issues. The first one is whether the states and the two borrowers have the right to sue over the plan in the first place, a legal concept called “standing.” 

If they don’t, that clears the way for the Biden administration to go ahead with it. 

To prove they have standing, the states and borrowers will have to show in part that they’re financially harmed by the plan.

Beyond standing, the justices will also be asking whether the HEROES Act gives the Biden administration the power to enact the plan and how it went about doing so.

What the justices signal about that balance of power is one of several longstanding questions the nation’s highest court could answer as Biden’s debt plan gets its day in court.

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