In a recent ruling, a Texas federal judge struck down President Biden’s much-touted student loan handout. The president’s plan aims to cancel up to $20,000 in loan debt for college students who received Pell grants and up to $10,000 for others who borrowed money using student loans.
“Whether the Program constitutes good public policy is not the role of this Court to determine. Still, no one can plausibly deny that it is either one of the largest delegations of legislative power to the executive branch, or one of the largest exercises of legislative power to the executive branch, or one of the largest exercises of legislative power without congressional authority in the history of the United States,” wrote Mark Pittman, United States District Judge.
“In this country, we are not ruled by an all-powerful executive with a pen and a phone. Instead, we are ruled by a Constitution that provides for three distinct and independent branches of government…The Court is not blind to the current political division in our country. But it is fundamental to the survival of our Republic that the separation of powers as outlined in our Constitution be preserved,” said Pittman.
Loan forgiveness program is already on hold
The program had already been put on hold when a St. Louis federal appeals court considered a separate lawsuit by six states challenging it. Judge Pittman said the program usurped powers given to Congress to make laws.
Missouri, Kansas, Nebraska, Arkansas, Iowa, and South Carolina filed suit with the 8th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals on October 21 to put the loan forgiveness plan on hold. While the stay temporarily halted the administration’s debt-clearing plan, the White House has encouraged loan borrowers to continue to apply for relief, saying the stay didn’t prevent the review of applications or applications for forgiveness. By late October, more than 22 million borrowers had applied for the relief program.
Legal challenges have created confusion over whether borrowers will resume making payments beginning January 1, when the Covid-19 pandemic pause is set to expire. Economists caution that if payments resume, people who have yet to rebound from the pandemic financially could fall behind on bills and default.
The law permits the Secretary of Education to “waive or modify any statutory or regulatory provision applicable to the student financial assistance programs…as the Secretary deems necessary in connection with a war or other military operation or national emergency.”
The Biden administration argues that the student loan relief was approved to deal with the pandemic national emergency. Judge Pittman disagreed, ruling that a program of such great importance requires congressional authorization. He wrote the HEROES Act “does not provide the executive branch clear congressional authorization to create a $400 billion student loan forgiveness program.”
Judge Pittman also rejected the government’s arguments that the lawsuit’s plaintiffs lacked standing. Plaintiffs Alexander Taylor and Myra Brown both have outstanding student loans. Still, Taylor is not eligible for the full $20,000 because he didn’t have a Pell grant, and Brown is ineligible for debt relief because she has commercially held loans.