Student loans SCOTUS case: What you need to know

Before SCOTUS can tackle the constitutionality of Biden’s student loan forgiveness plan, it must address the plaintiffs' legal standing.

Rep. Virginia Foxx calls Biden's plan 'a never-ending cost to the American people.'

The Supreme Court (SCOTUS) heard two arguments yesterday regarding the Biden administration’s plan to cancel over $500 billion in student loan debt.

The first case, Biden v. Nebraska, is on behalf of six states, and the second Department of Education v. Brown, is on behalf of two student borrowers. Both cases allege that the plaintiffs are financially harmed by Biden’s student loan plan.

[RELATED: UPDATED: Court blocks Biden’s student loan plan]

Although the constitutionality of Biden’s plan has been sharply criticized, SCOTUS must first address whether the plaintiffs could rightfully bring their cases to the Court, also known as legal standing.

If SCOTUS finds that neither the states nor citizens can sue the federal government in this issue, “the challenge would be dismissed without a ruling on the merits. That would allow the Biden plan to proceed, but could allow for future challenges from different petitioners,” according to The Wall Street Journal.

Legal analysts suggest that Biden’s best-case scenario would be for the Court to dismiss the cases on the standing issue without addressing their constitutional merits.

Department of Education (DOEd) Secretary Miguel Cardona, however, says his department possesses “decades-old authority used by multiple administrations to protect borrowers from the effects of national emergencies.” 

Rep. Virginia Foxx of the House Committee on Education and the Workforce described for “Fox Business” last night the perverse incentives created by the Administration’s plan.

Student loan forgiveness, reasons Foxx, “means that in the future colleges and universities are going to continue to raise the cost of tuition and fees, and those students taking out loans this year [are] assuming their loans are going to be paid for in four to five years. This is a never-ending cost to the American people.”

Here is the most important information about the arguments for each case:

Harm to States: Biden v. Nebraska

Main Question: If the states have standing, does the DOEd’s plan exceed executive branch authority or is it “arbitrary and capricious?”

Nebraska, Missouri, Arkansas, Iowa, Kansas, and South Carolina are suing the Biden Administration, arguing that the HEROES Act does not give the executive branch authority to cancel billions of dollars in student debt.

The states’ primary argument for standing hinges on the harm of loss of tax revenue and other expenses from state-based student loan management organizations.

Justice Amy Coney Barret may join with progressive justices on the issue of standing. Coney Barret previously rejected a state-based challenge to the plan on the issue of standing, and her comments and questions today echoed similar contentions.

Justice Ketanji Brown Jackson raised the concern that the federal government would not be able to function if states were able to bring lawsuits every time they were impacted by national-level law.

Both Chief Justice John Roberts and Justice Clarence Thomas were most concerned with the language of the HEROES Act, seemingly sympathetic to the constitutional argument that Biden has overshot his authority.

[RELATED: Biden declares COVID-19 emergency over, new legal challenge to loan forgiveness on the horizon]

Harm to Individual Citizens: Department of Education v. Brown

Main Question: If individual borrowers have standing, was the DOEd’s plan “statutorily authorized” and “adopted in a procedurally proper manner”?

The standing for student borrowers was questioned by both liberal and conservative justices.

When Justice Sonya Sotomayor argued that the plaintiff’s case was “totally illogical” because it would only deprive millions of eligible borrowers, the plaintiff’s attorney, Michael Connolly, offered a strong retort despite incessant pushback, according to the Wall Street Journal.

“This is not someone off the street who’s upset their taxes are going up,” said Connolly, arguing that his client’s would have had the opportunity to weigh-in on the program if the Biden Administration had used proper channels of administrative rulemaking that require citizen comments prior to implementation.

Justice Samuel Alito asked the US Solicitor General, “Why was it fair to the people who didn’t get arguably comparable relief, not maybe that their interests were outweighed by the interests of those who were benefited or they were somehow less deserving of solicitude,” as reported by CNN.

The Court typically releases decisions in late June or early July, but some analysts suspect that these cases will be decided sooner because of their political urgency and impact on the remainder of Biden’s legislative agenda.

Student loan repayments, which have been on pause since the early days of the Pandemic, will resume either 60 days after June 30 or 60 days after the release of the SCOTUS decision.

All relevant parties have been contacted. Campus Reform will continue to cover this story as it develops.

Follow Gabrielle M. Etzel on Twitter.