Jun 26, 2023, 7:25am EDT

Will the Supreme Court spare Biden’s student debt plan?

REUTERS/Elizabeth Frantz

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With the Supreme Court expected to decide the fate of President Biden’s massive student debt forgiveness plan this week, supporters of the proposal say they’re feeling more optimistic it might survive, thanks to two of the justices’ rulings in other cases this term.

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The court’s conservative majority expressed deep skepticism toward the forgiveness plan, which would wipe up to $20,000 of debt for millions of borrowers, during oral arguments earlier this year. But advocates are pointing to a pair of recent opinions by justices Amy Coney Barrett and Brett Kavanaugh as reason for hope.

In both cases, the court tossed out challenges brought by states to a federal law or Biden administration policy, after finding the states had failed to show they’d been harmed by it.‘

Progressive groups say those rulings might be setting the stage for the court to toss out the two student loan cases on similar standing grounds, since the suits were brought by states that have had some trouble demonstrating they would be directly hurt by the proposal. One was filed by the state of Missouri on behalf of a functionally independent student loan servicer that reportedly had no involvement in filing the case.

“I think there is a path forward for this case,” Persis Yu, policy director and managing counsel at the Student Borrower Protection Center, told Semafor.


On Capitol Hill, Democrats mostly held back from speculating on how the high court might rule or the White House’s fallback options. “If the Supreme Court follows the law, then 43 million people will have the student loan debt relief the president promised them,” Sen. Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts told Semafor on Thursday.

But not entirely. “I think the administration has a plan B, which would probably deal with the Supreme Court’s objections,” Sen. Bernie Sanders of Vermont told reporters.

If the court rules against them, progressives and advocacy groups are pressing the administration to consider trying the effort again using a different legal theory.

“In theory, they could do that but that might face similar legal challenges and hurdles so it’s unclear if the administration is going to pursue that,” Adam Minsky, a Boston-based student loan lawyer, told Semafor.

The White House’s hands may be tied beyond that. The debt limit law prevents the Biden administration from extending a student loan repayment moratorium now in its third year. And the Education Department announced it will restart student loan payments from borrowers in October with interest beginning to accrue in Sept. 1.