Amy Coney Barrett rejects right-wing challenge to student loan forgiveness

Amy Coney Barrett rejects right-wing challenge to student loan forgiveness
Image via Creative Commons.

On Thursday, Supreme Court Justice Amy Coney Barrett rejected an emergency application from a right-wing group in Wisconsin to block President Joe Biden's student loan relief plan, according to Bloomberg News court reporter Greg Stohr.

The Wisconsin Institute for Law and Liberty (WILL), had filed the application on behalf of the Brown County Taxpayers' Association, arguing the president lacked the authority to implement the program and further claiming that taxpayers are injured by the plan by having to pay for it with either inflation or future tax increases, relying on a rarely-used legal idea called the Major Questions Doctrine.

Biden enacted the plan under the HEROES Act, a 9/11-era law that allows the executive to establish certain programs in case of a national emergency, which the president is invoking as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic. WILL argued to the court that this was unlawful.

"The Plan is a massive new federal spending program on par with the Bipartisan Infrastructure Act, which was touted by the White House as a 'once-in-a-generation' and 'transformational' federal law," said the complaint. "In a different way, the Plan — which will wipe away untold assets off the United States’ balance sheets by unchecked presidential fiat — will be transformational to our separation of powers, the rule of law, and the power of the President. Almost anything can be a national emergency. If a President can do this, then he will have been transformed into an officer who not only executes the law but also makes it."

Barrett, who was appointed to the late Ruth Bader Ginsburg's seat by former President Donald Trump in the final days of his presidency, and who held the deciding vote in overturning Roe v. Wade, did not give a public explanation for her decision not to refer the matter to the full court.

However, there were key problems with this complaint, the main being that it is unclear the plaintiff is truly injured in any way that gives standing to challenge the program. Historically, simply costing taxpayer money has not been interpreted by courts to be a sufficient injury — particularly given it's not even clear the student loan relief program's cost will actually result in a tax increase for the specific people suing. WILL even acknowledged this in the complaint, writing, "Applicant is aware that prudential notions of standing are an issue here ... Applicant is aware of the concern that federal courts should not be transformed into forums for the abstract litigation of questions in which litigants without a concrete stake in the matter press claims that do not discreetly affect them."

The application page for requesting student loan relief went live this week. Under Biden's plan, individuals making less than $125,000, or married couples making less than $250,000, can apply for up to $10,000 in forgiveness for regular loans, or $20,000 for Pell Grant recipients, along with several other reforms to how interest is calculated and how existing income-based repayment plans work. Another lawsuit challenging the program, filed by several Republican state attorneys general, is still in progress.

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