The Supreme Court on Thursday declined to overturn a lower court’s injunction halting the student loan relief plan enacted by President Joe Biden in August, leaving the program on hold for now. The high court said it would hear oral arguments in the case in February on an expedited basis, promising a potentially definitive decision on the debt relief program by June.
The Biden plan, estimated to cost roughly $400 billion, would cancel up to $20,000 in student loan debt for millions of borrowers, subject to income restrictions. About 26 million people have already applied for debt relief, but conservative groups and Republican-led states have sought to block the program in the courts.
In the case before the court Thursday, a group of six states led by Nebraska argued that Biden does not have the legal authority to forgive student debt. The Biden administration claims it has such authority under the Higher Education Relief Opportunities for Students (HEROES) Act of 2002, a 9/11-era law that allows a president to suspend student loan payments during a national emergency. (The White House has relied on the same authority to repeatedly extend a pause on student loan payments first enacted by former president Donald Trump during the early days of the Covid-19 pandemic.)
The states argue in papers filed with the court that the use of the HEROES Act “requires a real connection to a national emergency.” While Trump did declare a national emergency due to Covid-19 in March of 2020, the states claim that the Biden administration is using that declaration as a cover to achieve unrelated political ends: “the department’s reliance on the Covid-19 pandemic is a pretext to mask the president’s true goal of fulfilling his campaign promise to erase student-loan debt.”