Biden administration looks to Supreme Court to continue student debt relief program
The Biden administration said in court papers on Thursday that it plans to ask the Supreme Court to remove one of the legal obstacles blocking its student debt relief program, which has drawn swift legal challenges since its recent launch.
The forthcoming request to the justices is part of the administration’s broader legal strategy to fend off lawsuits entangling Biden’s student loan forgiveness plan, which would give all borrowers making less than $125,000 a year at least $10,000 debt relief.
The program is currently blocked as a result of separate rulings by a St. Louis-based federal appeals court this week and a Texas-based federal judge last week. In its Thursday filing, the Department of Justice (DOJ), on behalf of the administration, said in effect that it would be asking the relevant courts to clear the way for Biden’s debt relief program to be reinstated.
The DOJ’s move follows a ruling Monday by the St. Louis-based U.S. Court of Appeals for the 8th Circuit that halted the program.
“The government will be filing an application with the Supreme Court to vacate a separate injunction against the Secretary’s action entered by the Eighth Circuit earlier this week,” the DOJ lawyers wrote.
That announcement came in a legal filing that took aim at another ruling ensnaring the debt relief plan: an order issued last week by a federal judge appointed by former President Trump who invalidated the program on the grounds that Biden’s policy usurped Congress’s power.
That ruling prompted the administration on Thursday to ask a separate appeals court — the New Orleans-based U.S. Court of Appeals for the 5th Circuit — to pause the Texas-based court’s order while the administration mounts a formal appeal.
While these two cases have thus far succeeded in halting the student loan forgiveness program, at least four other similar challenges across the country have little to show for their effort. Among the unsuccessful bids were two cases that eventually sought emergency relief in the Supreme Court but were unilaterally rejected by Justice Amy Coney Barrett.
Legal experts said the Supreme Court may not remain on the sidelines as the legal challenges and appeals pile up, however.
Thomas Bennett, an associate professor of law at the University of Missouri, previously told The Hill the Supreme Court is more likely to take up the case if multiple courts give different rulings on the issue, creating what’s often referred to as a “circuit split.”
The court battles have led to a complete halt of the student debt forgiveness program, with the Department of Education pulling the student debt relief applications off its website while the program is litigated.
Before the applications were pulled, millions of borrowers had submitted applications in hopes of getting the relief before payments on the loans resume in January 2023.
As the courts determine the legality of the program, there is no set timeline on when a final decision could be made. The case could take anywhere from weeks to months before a final ruling is made.
While the fight continues in the courts, student loan advocates are urging the administration to extend the pause on loan repayments.
Student loan repayments have been paused since the beginning of the pandemic as the economy has suffered during the COVID-19 pandemic and record high inflation.
The Washington Post previously reported that the Biden administration is considering an extension on the payment pause, but there has been no official word from the White House, and payments are set to begin in a month and a half.
Updated at 6:27 p.m.