What you need to know about Tuesday’s student-debt relief Supreme Court showdown – MarketWatch:
Frank Sottosanto just got a taste of what it would be like to be free of student debt.
Almost every story about student loan debt features someone talking about how great it feels or what they’ll do without student loan debt. This has no bearing whatsoever on the legal issues involved. Further, the stories never seem to mention that the debt was willingly acquired and helped pay for something the individual received, namely an education. Student loan debt is a choice.
The first question the court will look to answer is whether the parties have standing, or the right to bring a lawsuit to court. In one case before the justices, which comes out of the federal court in Fort Worth, Texas, a federal judge essentially collapsed the question of whether the plaintiffs had standing with whether the policy was legal and ruled in favor of the borrowers challenging the Biden administration’s policy, saying it was unconstitutional.
Standing—whether the plaintiffs have a right to be in court in the first place—is likely the strongest argument Biden can mount. It’s not clear that the federal judge acted properly here, but this is an activist Supreme Court, so I expect that they’ll not worry about standing and rule on the merits of the case. (If there’s no standing, then the case should be thrown out.)
Legal experts generally agree that plaintiffs in the other suit before the Supreme Court have a stronger argument for standing. In that case, six Republican-led states sued the Biden administration over its debt-relief policy, saying they’d be harmed by it because it would impact their revenue in various ways.
It’s unclear from Supreme Court rulings—notably in a 2006 decision regarding the EPA—where states are positioned when it comes to determining standing. Presumably, this will get cleaned up this go-around.
If the court finds that the parties in both cases don’t have standing to sue, then the Biden administration’s debt relief plan would remain in place, at least for now. That’s because a lack of standing means the justices can’t get to the question of whether the program is legal.
If, however, the justices do find the plaintiffs have the right to sue then they can consider the merits of the case or whether the law gives the Biden administration the power to cancel student debt.
The answer to the latter question, does the Biden administration have the power to cancel student debt, is almost assuredly “no.” Neither Biden nor Pelosi thought so previously, and I doubt they actually think so now, but “free money” is the type of thing that plays well to the Democratic base whether the ruling goes in their favor or not. Polling on this splits heavily along party lines: 80% of Democrats support student loan forgiveness, 71% of Republicans oppose it, and independents are split 44-42 in favor (basically within the margin of error).
The government has said the HEROES Act — a 2003 law meant to protect student loan borrowers from the impacts of natural disasters and national emergencies — authorizes the Secretary of Education to cancel student debt to ensure borrowers aren’t left financially worse off from the pandemic.
I doubt very much that the HEROES Act is sufficient legal grounds for the President to unilaterally cancel student debt. But we’ll see what the Court says.
Legality aside, the economic costs of the program are high, between $333 billion and $361 billion over 10 years according to independent researchers. It is unclear to me why taxpayers should be on the hook for a benefit that (1) almost definitionally benefits the better educated rather than the poor, less-educated and (2) continues to allow higher education institutions to raise already exorbitant tuition rates.
There are student loan forgiveness programs already in existence: The GI Bill, AmeriCorp, Peace Corp, public or non-profit service, etc. I support all of them. I don’t support Biden’s free money plan.