The Supreme Court struck down President Joe Biden’s student loan forgiveness plan on Friday, ending a $430 billion debt writeoff that critics said had been a midterm election gimmick Biden knew was unconstitutional.
As Breitbart News reported last fall: “Over the summer, Biden announced his decision to forgive up to $20,000 in student debt for Americans making less than $125,000 a year. The president announced details of his plan on social media, describing it as a “campaign promise” to give “working and middle-class families breathing room” on student loans.”
The plan was criticized for attempting to evade Congress’s power to control spending and debts, for prioritizing elite college graduates over working-class Americans who chose not to go to college, and for punishing those who paid off their loans or chose fields of study more likely to lead to finding good jobs.
Earlier this month, President Biden vetoed a bipartisan bill that would have overturned his student loan forgiveness plan. Congress could not muster the votes to override his veto, but had expressed its displeasure.
The Court considered two cases. In the first, Department of Education v. Brown, the Court decided that the plaintiffs, who were not eligible for Biden’s student loan relief, lacked standing to sue because they could not show that they had been harmed directly by it. But in the second, Biden v. Nebraska, the Court held that the State of Nebraska had shown that Biden’s plan would hurt MOHELA, its nonprofit student loan provider.
Biden, through the Department of Education, sought to use emergency authority under the Health and Economic Recovery Omnibus Emergency Solutions (HEROES) Act to extend temporary student loan forbearance into outright student loan cancelation. But the Court found that the cancelation went much further than a mere “waiver” contemplated under that law, and amounted to usurping Congress’s own fiscal powers.
Chief Justice John Roberts wrote the majority opinion for the Court, which split 6-3 among familiar lines, with all the Republican-appointed justices against the program, and all the Democratic justices voting to uphold it.
In one noteworthy passage, Roberts quoted then-Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) herself, who said at the time that Biden did not have the constitutional authority to cancel student loan debts unilaterally (citations omitted):
The sharp debates generated by the Secretary [of Education]’s extraordinary program stand in stark contrast to the unanimity with which Congress passed the HEROES Act. The dissent asks us to “[i]magine asking the enacting Congress: Can the Secretary use his powers to give borrowers more relief when an emergency has inflicted greater harm?” … The dissent “can’t believe” the answer would be no. … But imagine instead asking the enacting Congress a more pertinent question: “Can the Secretary use his powers to abolish $430 billion in student loans, completely canceling loan balances for 20 million borrowers, as a pandemic winds down to its end?” We can’t believe the answer would be yes. Congress did not unanimously pass the HEROES Act with such power in mind. … As then-Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi explained:
“People think that the President of the United States has the power for debt forgiveness. He does not. He can postpone. He can delay. But he does not have that power. That has to be an act of Congress.” Press Conference, Office of the Speaker of the House (July 28, 2021).
All this leads us to conclude that “[t]he basic and consequential tradeoffs” inherent in a mass debt cancellation program “are ones that Congress would likely have intended for itself.” … In such circumstances, we have required the Secretary to “point to ‘clear congressional authorization’” to justify the challenged program. … And as we have already shown, the HEROES Act provides no authorization for the Secretary’s plan even when examined using the ordinary tools of statutory interpretation—let alone “clear congressional authorization” for such a program.
In her dissenting opinion, Justice Elena Kagan — the former dean of Harvard Law School, responsible for provoking hefty student loan debts among graduates — said that the Court had “exceed[ed] its proper, limited role in our Nation’s governance” — though she seemed unconcerned that the president had done exactly that.
Robert addressed Kagan’s strident argument in his own opinion, noting: “It has become a disturbing feature of some recent opinions to criticize the decisions with which they disagree as going beyond the proper role of the judiciary. … Reasonable minds may disagree with our analysis — in fact, at least three do. … We do not mistake this plainly heartfelt disagreement for disparagement. It is important that the public not be misled either. Any such misperception would be harmful to this institution and our country.”
Justice Amy Coney Barrett wrote a concurring opinion.
The cases are Department of Education v. Brown, United States Supreme Court No. No. 22–535, and Biden v. Nebraska, United States Supreme Court No. 22–506.
Joel B. Pollak is Senior Editor-at-Large at Breitbart News and the host of Breitbart News Sunday on Sirius XM Patriot on Sunday evenings from 7 p.m. to 10 p.m. ET (4 p.m. to 7 p.m. PT). He is the author of the new biography, Rhoda: ‘Comrade Kadalie, You Are Out of Order’. He is also the author of the recent e-book, Neither Free nor Fair: The 2020 U.S. Presidential Election. He is a winner of the 2018 Robert Novak Journalism Alumni Fellowship. Follow him on Twitter at @joelpollak.