Though he decried the Supreme Court ruling that canceled his student debt relief program and blamed Republicans for following it, President Biden said Friday his administration would launch a new effort to cancel college loans in under a different law.
The law Biden cites, the Higher Education Act of 1965, contains a provision: Section 1082 of Title 20 of the United States Code – which gives the secretary of education authority to « compromise, waive, or release any right, title, claim, privilege, or demand, however acquired, including any equity or redemption right. »
Some advocates of student debt relief had proposed that the Biden administration invoke this law as the basis of the president’s original loan relief program. In February 2021, for example, a group of Democrats including Senators Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts and Chuck Schumer of New York, the Majority Leader, presented a resolution urging that step.
But as the Covid-19 pandemic escalated, the Biden administration used instead a law giving the secretary of education the power to « waiver or modify » federal student loan provisions in the event of a national emergency. (A law passed by Congress to address the pandemic, the HEROES Act, may have made that path more attractive to policymakers, because it also exempted some agency actions from the usual regulatory and notice-and-comment processes.)
In a lawsuit Friday filed by Republican-controlled states, the six Republican-appointed judges ruled that the administration had gone overboard with that law.
If Biden’s new plan faced a similar lawsuit, as it seems likely as a matter of political reality, it would eventually come before the Supreme Court itself, raising the question of whether wording differences between the statutes will make any difference.
In the majority ruling, Chief Justice Roberts said the words « waiver or amend » cannot legitimately be construed as conferring the power to cancel large-scale debt, and invoked a conservative doctrine that courts should cancel agency actions that raise « important questions » had Congress not clearly and unequivocally granted that authority.
While Mr. Biden said he believed the Supreme Court got the law wrong on Friday, he argued the new approach was « legally sound » and said he had ordered his team to move as quickly as possible. Miguel Cardona, the education secretary, took the first step in starting the process, the president said.
Mr. Biden predicted that using the Higher Education Act would take longer than his original plan, but said: « In my view, it is the best avenue left to provide debt relief to as many borrowers as possible. » .
Ms. Warren in early 2021 was also released a sheet of seven pages since September 2020 by the Harvard Law School Legal Services Center, which it had commissioned, setting out an argument in more detail on how the Higher Education Act could be used to cancel student debt.