Supreme Court poised to reject student loan waivers

WASHINGTON (AP) — Conservative justices hold the majority of the Supreme Court President Joe Biden appears poised to sink a plan to eliminate or reduce student loans Held by millions of Americans.

In arguments that lasted more than three hours on Tuesday, Chief Justice John Roberts led his conservative colleagues to question the administration’s authority to broadly cancel federal student loans because of the Covid-19 emergency.

Loan payments, which have been on hold since the start of the coronavirus pandemic three years ago, are due to resume later this summer. Without the debt relief promised by the Biden plan, the administration’s Supreme Court lawyer said, “crime and loan defaults will increase.”

The plan has so far been blocked by Republican-appointed judges in lower courts. It didn’t fare well with six justices appointed by Republican presidents.

Biden’s only hope of being allowed to move forward is if the court finds that Republican-led states and individuals lack the legal right to challenge the plan, based on arguments.

That would allow the court to dismiss cases at an entry point without ruling on the basic idea of ​​the loan forgiveness program, which seemed to bother justices on the right side of the court.

Roberts was one of the justices who grilled Solicitor General Elizabeth Preloger and suggested the administration had overstepped its authority.

Three times, the chief justice said the program would cost half a trillion dollars, pointing to its broad impact and high costs, requiring the administration to obtain express approval from Congress. The plan, the administration says, is based on a 2003 law enacted in response to the military conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan. It is estimated to cost $400 billion over 30 years.

“If you’re talking about it in the abstract, I think most casual observers would say, if you’re going to affect the obligations of so many Americans on something, you’re going to give up so much … money. It’s hugely controversial, and they’ll think it’s something that Congress needs to act on,” Roberts said.

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Justice Brett Kavanagh agreed, saying the administration’s use of “old law” to unilaterally implement a debt relief plan that Congress had refused to approve “seems problematic.”

No justice was swayed by Prelogger’s explanation that the administration was citing a national emergency created by the pandemic as authority for a debt relief program under a law commonly known as the Heroes Act.

“Some of the biggest mistakes in the court’s history were delaying the assertion of executive emergency authority,” Kavanaugh said. “Some of the best moments in the history of the Court have pushed back against the president’s assertion of emergency powers.”

At another point, however, Cavanagh suggested the plan might be on firmer legal ground than other pandemic-related plans that have been struck down by the court’s conservative majority. The need for vaccinations or frequent check-ups In large workplaces.

Previous programs halted by courts were often imposed by public health measures aimed at slowing the spread of Covid-19. The loan forgiveness program, by contrast, aims to counter the economic effects of the pandemic.

Preloger and some liberal justices tried several times to turn the arguments to the people who would benefit from the program. The administration says 26 million people have applied for up to $20,000 in federal student loan forgiveness under the program.

“States are asking this court to deny this vital relief to millions of Americans,” he said.

Justice Sonia Sodomeyor said her fellow justices would be making a mistake if they took it upon themselves, rather than leaving it up to education experts, to “decide how much aid” to struggling people if the program is shut down.

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“Their financial situation is going to be even worse because once you default, the hardship on you is exponentially greater. You can’t get credit. You’re going to pay more for things,” Sodomeyer said.

But Roberts pointed to obvious support.

A college graduate who started a lawn service with borrowed money gave a hypothetical example. “No one is telling a person who’s trying to set up a lawn service business that he doesn’t have to pay the bills,” Roberts said.

Lawmakers in Republican-led states and Congress, as well as conservative legal interests, have lined up against the plan, saying it oversteps Biden’s executive authority. Democratic-led states and liberal interest groups are supporting the administration in urging the court to allow the plan to go ahead.

The justices’ questions reflected a partisan political divide on the issue, with conservatives arguing that non-college workers should not be penalized and liberals arguing for breaks for college graduates.

Speaking ahead of the arguments, Biden said, “I believe there is legal authority to carry out that plan.”

The president, who once doubted his own authority to broadly cancel student loans, first announced the plan in August. Legal challenges quickly followed.

The administration says the Heroes Act allows the education secretary to waive or change the terms of federal student loans in connection with a national emergency. The law primarily aims to ensure that service members do not suffer financially while engaged in wars in Afghanistan and Iraq.

Nebraska and other states that have sued say 20 million borrowers will have their entire loans wiped out, taking a “windfall” more than they did before the pandemic.

“This is the creation of a brand new program that is beyond the intent of Congress,” Nebraska Solicitor General James Campbell told the court on Tuesday.

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The national emergency is expected to end on May 11, but the administration says the economic effects will linger, despite historically low unemployment and other signs of economic strength.

In addition to the debate over the power to forgive student loans, the court faces challenges before the justices to whether states and two individuals have legal standing or can sue.

Parties generally have to show that standing in such cases would cost them money. A federal judge initially found the states harmless and dismissed their case before saying the appeals panel could proceed..

Justice Amy Coney Barrett, along with three liberal justices, repeatedly questioned Campbell of Nebraska on that issue. But at least one conservative vote would be needed to form a majority.

Of the two individuals suing in Texas, one consists of commercially held student loans, and the other is eligible for $10,000 in debt relief, not the $20,000 maximum. If they win the case they get nothing.

Among those in the courtroom Tuesday was Kayla Smith, a recent graduate of the University of Georgia who had camped near the courthouse the night before to secure a seat. Biden’s plan would lift a burden on his mother, who took out more than $20,000 in federal student loans to help Smith attend college.

“College is the expectation, higher education is the expectation, but at the same time it seems confusing that people’s lives are being ruined,” said Smith, 22, who lives in Atlanta.

Arguments are available AP YouTube Channel or on Website of the Court.

A decision is expected by the end of June.


Associated Press writer Colin Binkley contributed to this report.

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