The Supreme Court on Friday struck down Biden’s plan to cancel up to $20,000 in per capita student debt owed to the federal government, ruling in a 6-3 decision along ideological lines that the president could not use emergency « waiver » powers related to the Covid-19 Pandemic to implement a massive debt relief. The Biden administration had used the HEROES Act, a bill passed in 2003 in the wake of the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks, which gives the Department of Education special powers to change typical federal student loan rules to respond to a national emergency.
The HEROES Act, Chief Justice John Roberts wrote in an opinion with five other conservative justices, « allows the secretary to ‘waive or modify’ existing statutory or regulatory provisions » but not to « rewrite » the federal students “from the grind.” Roberts also said the plan stretches the pandemic-related emergency measure well beyond its logical limits.
In her dissenting opinion, Justice Elena Kagan argued that the majority had gone further and inserted itself into the political process. “The Court refuses to recognize the clear wording of the HEROES Act” and “refuses to comply with Congressional decision to give sweeping emergency powers to” the education secretary, Kagan wrote, consequently leaving the education secretary “powerless « .
The ruling on the president’s debt relief plan represents a political setback for Biden, who has kept his promise to provide relief to Americans with significant outstanding student loan debt. It also adds to the time crunch for the administration, which faces an imminent deadline this fall when student loan payments, which have been suspended since the pandemic began in March 2020, are expected to resume.