President Joe Biden faced a significant political setback on Tuesday as the US Supreme Court invalidated his groundbreaking program to cancel the student debt of millions of Americans.
The court ruled that “Biden had exceeded his authority by eliminating over $400 billion in debt, which was intended to alleviate the long-standing financial burden on many Americans long after they completed their studies.”
With a conservative majority, the court voted six to three against the ruling, stating that the president should have obtained explicit authorization from Congress to implement such a program..
It declared that Biden’s justification for the debt relief plan, using the 2003 law called the Higher Education Relief Opportunities for Students Act, was flawed.
Six states led by Republicans filed a lawsuit arguing that the 2003 act, which aimed to assist former students who joined the military after the September 11, 2001 attacks, did not empower Biden to cancel loans.
Chief Justice John Roberts, writing the majority opinion, concurred with the states, stating, “The question here is not whether something should be done; it is who has the authority to do it.”
Following the ruling, a White House source, speaking anonymously, revealed that Biden “strongly” disagreed with the Supreme Court’s decision and would continue to fight for his plan.
The plan, announced in August 2022, aimed to forgive up to $20,000 per borrower, specifically benefiting individuals from low or middle-income backgrounds.
It was introduced after former President Donald Trump implemented a freeze on student loan payments during the Covid-19 pandemic.
The court determined that Biden lacked the unilateral power to eliminate such a substantial amount of debt, as that authority rests with Congress, which oversees the nation’s finances. Justice Neil Gorsuch wrote, “Among Congress’s most important authorities is its control of the purse.”
The court’s three progressive justices dissented from the decision. Justice Elena Kagan argued that the court itself was overstepping its authority by taking up the case. She contended that the states challenging Biden’s policy lacked standing to do so, as they had not personally incurred any harm or injury from the policy.
Kagan further maintained that the 2003 act did allow for the policy, and criticized the court for primarily basing its decision on the magnitude of the debt cancellation and its impact on the national finances.
She stated, “The result here is that the court substitutes itself for Congress and the executive branch in making national policy about student-loan forgiveness.”