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SCOTUS hears oral arguments on Biden’s student debt plan

Republican justices speak out against Biden’s controversial plan

Photo of the Supreme Court building

Student loan debt in the U.S. totals more than $1.7 trillion, according to the Education Data Initiative. Biden’s student debt relief plan is trying to put a dent in that. But challenges to the legality of the plan remain. Cami Twomey explains what’s at stake at the Supreme Court.

Tuesday, the Supreme Court heard two arguments against Joe Biden’s student debt forgiveness plan, which remains on hold after being blocked by the lower court last fall.

Biden’s Plan seeks to forgive up to $20,000 in federal student loan debt for more than 40 million Americans due to the effects of the pandemic. His plan relies on the Higher Education Relief Opportunities for Students Act of 2003, known as the HEROES Act, that grants the secretary of education the power to “waive or modify” a federal student loan program in emergency situations.

The first lawsuit brought by six Republican led states, argues that the act would exceed the authority of the Department of Education. The second, was brought by two individual borrowers who did not qualify for full benefits under the program.

The core question centers on whether the HEROES Act, grants the executive branch an emergency power to implement President Joe Biden’s student loan forgiveness program in the wake of the Covid-19 Pandemic.

Representative Jamaal Bowman, has been a staunch advocate for student debt relief. He argued that college should be free in the first place.

BOWMAN: Why the hell are we paying for education in the first place? College should be free. Oh, you should pay us to go to school. Because guess what? When we get out, we are contributing to this society and this democracy and this economy and making it stronger.

Justice Neil Gorsuch remained skeptical of the executive branch’s authority to enact such a plan.

GORSUCH: If you’re going to give up that much amount of money, if you’re going to affect the obligations of that many Americans on a subject that’s of great controversy, they would think that’s something for Congress to act on.

Chief Justice John Roberts, led the conservative questioning against the act and argued that the cost of the program exceeded the benefits.

ROBERTS: Not just the cost of government. I’m sorry to interrupt, but what I think they argue that is missing is cost to other persons in terms of fairness... half a trillion dollars is being diverted to one group of favored persons over others.

With Republican justices holding the court majority, 6 to 3, it is likely that Biden’s student loan forgiveness program will likely be struck down. The decision won’t be released for months, with a decision expected by summer.

For Annenberg Media, I’m Cami Twomey.