Judge to decide challenge that seeks to halt President’s student loan forgiveness plan

Attorneys General from 6 states are among those challenging the program.
Published: Oct. 14, 2022 at 12:03 PM AKDT
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WASHINGTON (Gray DC) - The application for the President’s student loan forgiveness hasn’t even come out yet but already legal challenges are beginning to mount in an attempt to shut down the program.

On Wednesday, a federal judge heard a 6-state challenge filed in a Missouri federal court by the Attorneys General of Arkansas, Missouri, Iowa, Kansas, Nebraska, and South Carolina. They have asked the court for an immediate temporary restraining order to pause the program. So far, that judge has not issued a decision.

“President Biden’s action canceling student loan debt is not only patently unfair, but it’s against the law. And that’s what’s important, is that we want to make sure that this president; we’re holding him accountable each and every time he overreaches his authority as president,” said Leslie Rutledge, Arkansas Attorney General.

Rutledge believes the President’s action is against the Administrative Procedures Act. The AG’s in those 6 states also call the program unfair and claim it will do little to benefit the working class and the poor.

“Every American is hurt by this student loan cancelation plan of President Biden,” said Rutledge. “It now puts the debt of those adults who decided to go to college, who chose to take out these loans, it now puts that debt on the backs of hard working electricians, plumbers, teachers, nurses.”

The Biden administration believes they are on solid legal ground as they act on a law passed in 2003 known as the HEROES Act (Higher Education Relief Opportunities for Students Act). The act was passed after the September 11, 2001 attacks to aid veterans impacted by 9/11 and people impacted by national emergencies.

U.S. Secretary Miguel Cardona said “you know, it’s unfortunate. It really is unfortunate. It’s baseless... We feel confident in what we’re doing. You know, so what we’re going to do is we continue to move forward, providing debt relief for millions of Americans who we want to make sure that they’re not worse off after the pandemic than they were before. You know, some of these same folks who are challenging this didn’t say peep when the 2017 tax plan provided support for those making over $85,000. We know 90% of the dollars in this plan are going to go to people making under $75,000. We’re confident that this is the direction we need to go to help folks get back on their feet as we recover from this pandemic. And, we’re confident that the plan that we have will stand legal ground.”

Washington News Bureau reporter Jamie Bittner asked Rutledge why she thought the HEROES act should not be applied in this case. Rutledge said, “quite honestly, it’s shameful that President Biden would use the HEROES Act, which was designed to give financial relief to our brave men and women in the military, as well as those incurring this debt and challenges during a national emergency. President Biden just a few short weeks ago announced that the pandemic was over. Perhaps President Biden forgot that he stated the pandemic was over when he used the HEROES Act, rather than using the HEROES Act to support our brave men and women in military.”

Georgetown University Law Center expert Frederick M. Lawrence said there are two issues the courts will need to decide.

“One is an issue we call standing, which means does anybody have the right to bring a lawsuit about this? And that really raises the question of is anybody hurt? You can’t bring a lawsuit because you have an opinion on an issue. You have to bring a lawsuit because you were hurt in some direct and demonstrable way. It’s not clear how these states are going to demonstrate that. It’s not clear how the private groups are going to demonstrate that. So there’s a big issue of standing and they may never get past that,” he said. “Then on the merits, you’ve got a federal statute in 2003, the Heroes Act, which was passed in the aftermath of 9/11. That gives the Secretary of Education very broad authority to deal with issues of student loan debt.”

Lawrence said he believes the administrations student loan forgiveness will likely be found legal because the HEROES act specifically mentions national emergencies. However, he said those challenging the forgiveness could attempt to argue the emergency is over.

“I think their arguments are going to jump to the merits. They’re going to say that the 2003 Heroes Act never envisioned a national emergency like COVID,” he said. “...second thing they might do is they might say that the national emergency has expired, that we’re no longer in a case of a national emergency.”

The application for the President’s student loan forgiveness is set to be released in October. The program is intended to benefit people making less than $125,000 and households with less than $250,000 in income. Pell Grant recipients can get up to $20,000 in relief. Other borrowers could get up to $10,000. The extension also freezes payment through December 31st. Borrowers can find information on the relief at studentaid.gov.

Rutledge had this message to borrowers who hope to take advantage of the program.

“Those who’ve taken out student loan debts need to do just as I did, and pay those debts back. You took that student loan out knowing that it was a loan to you in order for you to get a degree. So pay that loan back. We know it may take time, but get that job and pay it back. But what I don’t want you to do is to put your financial responsibility on the back of someone who shouldn’t have it,” she said.

Separate legal challenges have also been filed in court by organizations such as the Pacific Legal Foundation and the Job Creators Network Foundation.