Scholars, attorneys and advocates urge Supreme Court to block GOP efforts to tank student debt relief

Scholars, attorneys and advocates urge Supreme Court to block GOP efforts to tank student debt relief
U.S. Supreme Court Justice Samuel Alito (Wikimedia Commons)
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A broad coalition of legal scholars, attorneys, labor unions, and advocates filed amicus briefs this week imploring the U.S. Supreme Court to reinstate the Biden administration's student debt cancellation program, which lower courts have put on hold as Republican officials and right-wing groups attempt to block relief for tens of millions of borrowers.

The series of filings includes a 32-page brief led by the founders of the Student Loan Law Initiative, a project of the University of California, Irvine School of Law and the Student Borrower Protection Center. The law scholars argue that the Biden administration is perfectly within its right to forgive student loan debt "because Congress, through the plain language of the relevant statute, delegated precisely the authority exercised here."

"The relevant statutory text is clear as sunlight," the brief reads. "The HEROES Act of 2003 authorizes the secretary of education to 'waive or modify any statutory or regulatory provision applicable to the student financial assistance programs under [T]itle IV of the [Higher Education] Act [of 1965] as the secretary deems necessary in connection with a... national emergency.' That is exactly what the secretary did here."

Former U.S. Rep. George Miller (D-Calif.), the lead author of the HEROES Act, submitted an amicus brief on Tuesday echoing that assessment.

"In short, the HEROES Act permits the reduction or elimination of a student borrower's debt burden by allowing the secretary to 'relinquish' or 'make more moderate' the provisions that require repayment of student loans," Miller wrote. "This understanding of 'waive' and 'modify' aligns with the way that agencies have interpreted these terms in similar statutory provisions."

Other amicus briefs in support of upholding the Biden administration's debt cancellation program were submitted this week by the American Federation of Teachers, the Student Borrower Protection Center, the National Consumer Law Center, Democracy Forward, Advocates for Basic Legal Equality, and other organizations. If the program is allowed to proceed, eligible student loan borrowers will receive up to $20,000 in debt relief.

"As briefs from a broad range of people, experts, and legal scholars show, President Biden's debt relief plan for student loan borrowers is legal, necessary, and appropriate," said Skye Perryman, president and CEO of Democracy Forward. "Debt relief will provide crucial assistance to a huge number of people around the country, including in the states whose leaders are currently suing to stop it."

The briefs were filed on the same day the Biden administration announced another extension of the student loan repayment freeze, which will now expire at the end of June.

Last week, the Biden Justice Department formally asked the Supreme Court to reinstate the administration's debt forgiveness program after the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 8th Circuit issued an injunction halting the plan, siding with Republican officials from Arkansas, Iowa, Missouri, Nebraska, South Carolina, and Kansas and leaving tens of millions of people in limbo.

On Wednesday, those six states submitted a brief urging the Supreme Court to reject the Biden administration's effort to restore the student debt cancellation program, which has paused applications as legal challenges unfold.

Right-wing Supreme Court Justice Amy Coney Barrett has twice rejected emergency requests to block the debt relief plan in recent weeks.

Persis Yu, deputy executive director and managing counsel at the Student Borrower Protection Center, said Wednesday that vulnerable student loan borrowers "deserve better than to be treated like political pawns."

"We have faith that the Supreme Court will see through the political chicanery and allow this critical program to deliver the relief that 40 million working- and middle-class borrowers desperately need," Yu added.

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