Why Biden's student-loan-forgiveness plan is legal and should be reinstated by the Supreme Court, according to 44 economists, legal experts, and advocates

Joe Biden
President Joe Biden.Susan Walsh/AP
  • Biden's administration recently asked the Supreme Court to revive its plan for student-debt relief.

  • It followed a decision from the 8th Circuit that the relief would remain paused.

  • Dozens of advocates and experts filed briefs supporting the administration's request.

Millions of student-loan borrowers continue to wait for the nation's highest court to decide whether President Joe Biden's debt relief can move forward.

Dozens of of legal experts, economists, and advocates laid out why it could — and should.

At the end of August, Biden announced a plan to forgive up to $20,000 in student debt for federal borrowers making under $125,000 a year, but since then, its rollout has been far from seamless. A number of conservative-backed lawsuits arose seeking to block the policy, and on November 14, the 8th US Circuit Court of Appeals ruled that the temporary pause it placed on the relief in October would remain in place indefinitely.

The decision was in response to a lawsuit filed by six Republican-led states that said the relief would hurt their states' tax revenues.

Biden's Justice Department quickly appealed the 8th Circuit's decision and took the issue to the Supreme Court, asking it on November 18 to revive the student-loan-forgiveness plan. It's unclear when or what the highest court will decide, but 44 advocates, economists, legal experts, and scholars joined the Biden administration's fight by filing amicus-curiae briefs before Thanksgiving supporting the revival of the debt relief.

"As this country works its way out of the COVID-19 pandemic, working and middle-class Americans are counting on the President to deliver on his promise of student debt relief," Persis Yu, the deputy executive director and managing counsel at the advocacy group Student Borrower Protection Center, which filed one of the briefs, said in a statement. "The collective Amici are on the front lines helping borrowers survive financial havoc wrought by the double whammy of the broken student loan system and COVID-19 pandemic."

Karine Jean-Pierre, the White House press secretary, expressed confidence in a briefing Monday that the administration would prevail during.

"We are confident in our legal standing, if you will," she said. "As you know, it's up to the Supreme Court, and we're going to continue to fight. That will not end."

Here are the main arguments the experts and advocates used as to why the Supreme Court should reinstate Biden's student-debt cancellation.

Relief is authorized under the HEROES Act

Biden's administration used the HEROES Act of 2003 to authorize the broad student-debt relief. That law gives the education secretary the power to waive or modify student-loan balances in connection with a national emergency, like the COVID-19 pandemic. But all the conservative lawsuits seeking to block the relief have said the loan forgiveness is an overreach of the authority and should require congressional approval.

Eleven legal scholars wrote in their brief that the act appropriately justified the waiver of student-loan balances — and the COVID-19 national emergency has already been used as a reason to provide student-debt relief in the form of the continued extension of a payment pause.

The Republicans' "apparent intuition that temporary emergencies only justify temporary relief would be a curious and unheard-of constraint on government action; after all, the federal government does not ask disaster victims to return other forms of financial assistance provided to assist with post-disaster recovery, such as funds for housing and home repair, energy subsidies, or funeral expenses," the brief said.

Insider previously reported that former Rep. George Miller — an architect of the HEROES Act — also filed a brief to the Supreme Court saying the debt relief fell "exactly" under the education secretary's authority.

Borrowers continue to feel the influence of the pandemic

While many Republican lawmakers have said Biden cannot continue using the pandemic as a reason to provide continued debt relief, 11 economists, sociologists, and public-policy and higher-education scholars wrote in their brief that the pandemic alone was reason to carry out loan forgiveness.

"The COVID-19 pandemic was a severe national disaster, unprecedented in this century, that has negatively affected recent college graduates, and its effects on those graduates are likely to persist for many years," the brief said.

It added that borrowers would have more difficulty paying off their loans than if the pandemic had never happened.

A brief filed by the American Federation of Teachers president, Randi Weingarten, said many teachers and healthcare workers had left their fields during the pandemic and that debt "cancellation will help ensure that the millions of student borrowers and their families who are served by AFT are not made worse off with respect to their loan payments due to the devastating COVID-19 pandemic."

Relief helps those who need it the most

Twenty-one advocacy organizations wrote in their brief that Biden's debt relief plan was targeted to borrowers who needed it most — only Pell Grant recipients are eligible to receive the full $20,000 in relief, and the income cap on any relief stands at $125,000 a year.

"By providing an additional $10,000 in cancellation for borrowers who received a Pell Grant, the Department ensured that borrowers from the lowest income backgrounds — and who are historically at the highest risk of default — obtain the greatest benefit," the brief said.

The brief from legal scholars also said targeting the debt relief to low-income borrowers was reasonable and within the law's realm, saying "low-income borrowers are likely to continue suffering the most negative effects" of student debt and are most at risk of falling behind on payments.

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