SCOTUS Sounds Skeptical in Student Debt Argument

Conservative justices question plan's fairness
By Rob Quinn,  Newser Staff
Posted Feb 28, 2023 2:41 PM CST
SCOTUS Sounds Skeptical in Student Debt Argument
Sen. Bernie Sanders speaks at a rally for student debt relief advocates outside the Supreme Court, Tuesday, Feb. 28, 2023, as the court hears arguments over President Biden's student debt relief plan.   (AP Photo/Patrick Semansky)

The Supreme Court heard arguments Tuesday in two cases involving President Biden's student loan forgiveness plan—and analysts say the day left the plan's future looking shaky. The arguments stretched almost an hour beyond the allotted two hours, and Chief Justice John Roberts was among the conservative justices asking skeptical questions about the federal government's authority to wipe out the debt without permission from Congress, the AP reports. Roberts and other conservative justices also questioned the fairness of a plan that helps some borrowers and not others, reports the Washington Post. Roberts asked why a high school graduate who went to college would qualify for loan forgiveness while one who took out a loan to start a lawn care business would not.

Roberts repeatedly said the program, which is estimated to cost $400 billion over 30 years, would cost half a trillion dollars. "If you're going to affect the obligations of that many Americans on a subject that's of great controversy, they would think that's something for Congress to act on,” the chief justice said, per the AP. The court's liberal justices defended the administration''s authority to forgive the debt and questioned whether the plaintiffs, including six GOP-led states, had been specifically harmed by the program and had the standing to sue. Conservative Justice Amy Coney Barrett also pressed Nebraska Solicitor General James Campbell on the issue.

The administration, represented by US Solicitor General Elizabeth Prelogar, argued that the education secretary had the authority to "waive or modify" federal student assistance programs on the post-9/11 Higher Education Relief Opportunities for Students, or HEROES, Act, the Hill reports. Conservative Justice Brett Kavanaugh argued that "some of the finest moments in the court’s history were pushing back against presidential assertions of emergency power." The initiative, which offered up to $20,000 in loan forgiveness per borrower, is on hold while the top court debates the case, Politico reports. A decision is expected by late June. (Read more student loans stories.)

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