Attorney General Lynn Fitch has asked the U.S. Supreme Court to deny the Biden Administration’s bid to reinstateits student debt relief plan.
Earlier this month, the Biden Administration petitioned the Supreme Court to lift an injunction imposed by a lower court and allow the plan to go forward. The administration cited the impact that legal limbo would have on “millions of economically vulnerable borrowers,” including many of the nearly 439,000 Mississippians with student debt.
Justice Amy Coney Barrett had already twice declined to review the program, but this time, the court asked the Republican attorneys general challenging the plan to respond to Biden’s request to lift the injunction.
The amicus brief that Fitch signed onto, along with AGs from 16 other states, calls the plan “illegal, and blatantly so” as well as “among the most egregious examples of unauthorized executive action in American History” due in part to its impact on the federal deficit.
All told, the plan, which would forgive up to $20,000 in student debt per borrower, would cost the federal government about $430 billion over 30 years, according to the Congressional Budget Office.
“The President is attempting one of the largest wealth transfers in American history,” the brief reads. “More precisely, he has proposed to forgive hundreds of billions of dollars in student loans. But no law permits the President to do this. And the President has no inherent constitutional authority to forgive student debt.”
In defending the plan, the Biden administration has repeatedly cited the HEROES Act, a law passed in the wake of the Sept. 11 attacks that permits the president to forgive student loans during a “national emergency.”
The COVID-19 pandemic has been considered a national emergency since President Donald Trump issued a proclamation in March 2020. When Biden announced his student debt relief plan in August, he said it was intended to provide “ families breathing room as they prepare to start repaying loans after the economic crisis brought on by the pandemic.”
But Fitch, who did not respond to a request for comment by press time, and other AGs in the brief claim the HEROES Act does not “clearly” authorize the president to cancel student debt in the way Biden intends to. The brief also claims the COVID-19 pandemic no longer constitutes a national emergency.
“More important, even assuming the COVID-19 pandemic at some point qualified as a “national emergency,” certainly it does not qualify today, when American life is mostly indistinguishable from what it looked like in pre-pandemic times,” the brief states. “But even though COVID-19 is now irrelevant to nearly all Americans, the entire country remains in a state of declared disaster.”
The Republican-led legal challenges have already resulted in the U.S. Department of Education making a number of tweaks to the program, including removing about 800,000 borrowers from eligibility whose loans are backed by the federal government but held by commercial banks and closing the online application portal.
Biden has also extended the pause on student loan repayment until the legal challenges are resolved or June 30, 2023, whichever comes first. Biden had said the pause would expire at the end of this year.
Molly Minta covers higher education for Mississippi Today, in partnership with Open Campus.