ANALYSIS: Biden pleads SCOTUS to allow loan forgiveness, ignores Constitution

Since the plan’s inception, the Biden administration has argued that the HEROES Act, penned in 2003, provides the executive branch the authority to cast its debt relief plan.

Campus Reform reported in December that legal challenges to the Biden administration’s student loan forgiveness program have a chilling effect on implementing the plan. 

As federal Texas Judge Mark Pittman said in his ruling in November 2022, the forgiveness plan is “charging the executive with ‘unconstitutionally exercise[ing] ‘legislative powers’ vested in Congress.’”

The plan, as Campus Reform previously noted, “was first introduced by Biden while he campaigned for President.” He introduced the detailed plan in August 2022, fulfilling his campaign promise to cancel up to $20,000 in student loans for Pell Grant recipients. 

Other borrowers under a certain income threshold will receive up to $10,000 of forgiveness if the administration successfully defends the plan against legal challenges. 

The following December, the Supreme Court announced that the plan “will remain blocked for now, but the justices agreed to hear oral arguments in the case in February, with a decision expected by June,” as CNN reported. 

The Supreme Court will hear two combined cases against the relief program. 

The first is led by Republican states, including Arkansas, Iowa, Kansas, Missouri, Nebraska, and South Carolina. 

The second case is brought by “two college graduates who claim the Biden administration arbitrarily excluded some borrowers from relief and didn’t follow proper regulatory procedures,” wrote Higher Ed Dive

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Ahead of the Supreme Court’s hearing, the White House last Wednesday “pleaded with the U.S. Supreme Court… to allow cancellation of mass amounts of student loan debt, arguing officials have executive authority to do so.”  

Despite backlash from courts, U.S. Secretary of Education Miguel Cardona said in a public statement that the White House is “committed to fighting to deliver essential student debt relief to tens of millions of Americans.” 

“As part of this commitment, today the Departments of Education and Justice filed a legal brief with the Supreme Court explaining our legal authority under the Higher Education Relief Opportunities for Students [(HEROES)] Act to carry out our program of one-time, targeted debt relief,” Cardona continued. 

Since the plan’s inception, the Biden administration has argued that the HEROES Act, penned in 2003, provides the executive branch the authority to cast its debt relief plan. 

“The operative text empowers the Secretary to respond to a ‘national emergency’ by ‘waiv[ing] or modify[ing] any statutory or regulatory provision’ governing the federal student loan programs in order to ‘ensure’ that affected student-loan borrowers are not ‘placed in a worse position financially’ in relation to their loans because of the emergency,” the filing reads

In an effort to justify to the Court that plan responded to a national emergency, the Biden administration said, “Here, the Secretary [of Education] responded to the devastating economic consequences of the COVID-19 pandemic by granting targeted relief to borrowers at higher risk of delinquency and default due to the pandemic.” 

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As Campus Reform reported, Pittman previously countered the White House’s argument. His ruling says that the HEROES Act is “‘a law to provide loan assistance to military personnel defending our nation [and] does not provide the executive branch clear congressional authorization to create a $400 billion student loan forgiveness program.’”

Calls that the plan is unconstitutional, however, are disregarded by the Biden administration. 

Days following Biden’s plea to the Court, the Department of Justice defended the executive branch’s power to implement the sweeping debt relief package. 

The DOJ’s brief argued that Cardona, like former Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos, invoked the HEROES Act to pause student loan repayments during the pandemic. “But he also determined that despite the pause and other COVID-19 relief measures, the resumption of repayment obligations would put many lower-income borrowers ‘at heightened risk of loan delinquency and default’ due to the pandemic,” the brief continued, echoing the White House’s arguments. 

It was March 2020, however, when the former administration paused repayments, declaring a national emergency at the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic. 

At the time that the Biden administration introduced the loan forgiveness plan, the U.S. was not in a state of national emergency. 

Biden effectively admitted this last September when he proclaimed that “the pandemic is over,” as Campus Reform Higher Education Fellow Nicholas Giordano noted in an op-ed regarding the White House’s argument.    

“If the President is declaring the pandemic over, and ‘everybody seems to be in pretty good shape,’ then there is no national emergency and no justification for the student loan forgiveness order,” Giordano said. 

Additionally, Campus Reform shared an April 2020 report from the Congressional Research Service, explaining that “The HEROES Act can only be implemented… in connection with a war or other military action or a national emergency declared by the President.”

In the face of multiple legal scrutinies, the White House “remain[s] confident in [its] legal authority to adopt this program,” as Cardona concluded in his January 4 statement.  

Campus Reform continues to track the student loan forgiveness plan as the Supreme Court comes closer to hearing oral arguments in February. 


Editorials and op-eds reflect the opinion of the authors and not necessarily that of Campus Reform or the Leadership Institute.