Labor Unions, Law Scholars, Economists, Student Loan Borrower Advocates to Nation’s Highest Court: Student Debt Relief is Lawful and Urgently Needed to Address the Effects of the COVID-19 Pandemic
November 23, 2022 | WASHINGTON, D.C. — This week, an historic coalition of attorneys, advocates, labor unions, and experts filed a series of amicus curiae briefs with the U.S. Supreme Court in support of the Biden Administration’s student debt relief program. This coalition, led by the Student Borrower Protection Center, Democracy Forward, and the American Federation of Teachers, filed five briefs signed by dozens of organizations, scholars, experts, and lawmakers. These briefs showcase the broad support, strong legal foundation, and urgent economic necessity underpinning President Biden’s effort to cancel student debt for 40 million Americans.
Since President Biden first announced his intention to cancel up to $20,000 in student loan debt for the vast majority of borrowers, Republican officials and right-wing dark money groups have filed eight different legal challenges seeking to halt this effort. Earlier this month, one challenge filed by six Republican state officials succeeded in persuading a panel of Republican-appointed judges to temporarily block this program. Last week, the U.S. Department of Justice petitioned the Supreme Court to overturn this decision. This week’s briefs support the Justice Department’s petition. To date, more than 26 million Americans have applied for student debt relief.
“As this country works its way out of the COVID-19 pandemic, working and middle-class Americans are counting on the President to deliver on his promise of student debt relief,” said Persis Yu, Deputy Executive Director and Managing Counsel at the Student Borrower Protection Center. “The collective Amici are on the front lines helping borrowers survive financial havoc wrought by the double whammy of the broken student loan system and COVID-19 pandemic. Restarting repayment without cancellation will expose millions of borrowers to default and deprive too many of their wages, social security benefits, and Earned Income Tax Credit. These borrowers deserve better than to be treated like political pawns. We have faith that the Supreme Court will see through the political chicanery and allow this critical program to deliver the relief that 40 million working and middle-class borrowers desperately need.”
The brief by 21 legal services and borrower advocacy organizations from across the country, filed by the Student Borrower Protection Center, is available here: https://protectborrowers.org/scotus-legal-aid-amicus_2022-11-23
“As briefs from a broad range of people, experts, and legal scholars show, President Biden’s debt relief plan for student loan borrowers is legal, necessary, and appropriate,” said Skye Perryman, President and CEO of Democracy Forward. “Debt relief will provide crucial assistance to a huge number of people around the country, including in the states whose leaders are currently suing to stop it, and we hope the Court permits the Department to get back to work on the recovery from the COVID pandemic. When Congress passed the bipartisan HEROES Act, it specifically gave the federal government the legal authority to provide financial relief to borrowers due to a national emergency. President Biden’s Department of Education has taken the exact type of action with the debt relief plan Congress empowered it to take. We urge the U.S. Supreme Court to vacate the lower court’s injunction against the relief plan.”
The brief by 11 law scholars, led by UC Student Loan Law Initiative founders Prof. Dalié Jiménez and Prof. Jonathan Glater, and Prof. Peter Shane, Jacob E. Davis and Jacob E. Davis II Chair in Law at Ohio State University’s Moritz College of Law, filed by Democracy Forward, is available here: https://democracyforward.org/wp-content/uploads/2022/11/SCOTUS-Student-Debt-Law-Professor-Amicus.pdf
“The Biden administration’s student debt relief plan is a lifeline for millions of educators, nurses, public employees, and other working people – folks who carried us through the pandemic and who make our economy run every day,” said Randi Weingarten, President of the American Federation of Teachers. “They are counting on this debt cancellation to ensure their own financial security, so they can stay in their jobs teaching students, caring for patients, and keeping communities safe. But obstructionist ideologues are playing politics with their futures and misusing the legal system, simply to stop progress and worse to deny President Biden an achievement that would help millions of people. The legal case for debt cancellation is sound – and so is the moral one.”
The brief by the American Federation of Teachers, filed by Selendy and Gay is available here: https://protectborrowers.org/scotus-AFT-amicus_2022-11-23
“[B]oth recent college graduates and those who graduated many years ago are now in a worse position financially on account of the pandemic, so they are likely to have more difficulty paying off their student loans than if the pandemic had not occurred,” wrote a coalition of economists, sociologists, public policy and higher education scholars in their brief. “These negative effects of the pandemic are most likely to affect borrowers who have lower income and fewer assets, such as Pell Grant recipients. The Secretary’s decision to provide additional relief to Pell Grant recipients thus targets relief to those most in need, while the income cap denies relief to those least likely to need it.”
The brief by 11 economists, sociologists, public policy and higher education scholars, filed by HWG Law, is available here: https://protectborrowers.org/scotus-economists-amicus_2022-11-23
“In response to an unprecedented global pandemic, and relying on authority Congress gave the Education Secretary in the HEROES Act, the Education Secretary put in place a debt relief plan that reflected the breadth of the economic hardship created by the pandemic. The states now challenging this plan argue that Congress did not give the Secretary the authority to relieve student debt in this way, but our client, former Representative George Miller, was one of the chief architects of the HEROES Act, and he disagrees,” said Smita Ghosh, Appellate Counsel at the Constitutional Accountability Center. “As our brief shows, Congress used broad language in the text of the HEROES Act to make clear that the Education Secretary has extensive authority to respond to national emergencies, and the history of the law confirms that it authorizes comprehensive actions when the circumstances call for them. While the states challenging the debt-relief plan may not like it as a matter of policy, their contention that the loan forgiveness plan exceeds the Administration’s authority is completely without merit. The Supreme Court should lift the injunction put in place by the Eighth Circuit.”
The brief by Congressman George Miller, author of the HEROES Act of 2003 and former Chairman of the U.S. House Committee on Education and Labor, filed by the Constitutional Accountability Center, is available here: https://protectborrowers.org/scotus-chairman-miller-amicus_2022-11-23
On November 18, Supreme Court Justice Brett Kavanaugh received the Justice Department’s petition and invited a reply by Republican officials in Nebraska, Missouri, Iowa, Arkansas, Kansas, and South Carolina. These Republican officials must respond by today, at which point Justice Kavanaugh will determine how to proceed in this case. Two previous petitions to the Supreme Court, both submitted to Justice Amy Coney Barrett by opponents of student debt relief, were rejected earlier this month.
In a matter of weeks following President Biden’s historic student debt cancellation announcement, 26 million borrowers submitted applications– further evidence of the crushing burden this debt has had on workers and families from all walks of life. According to the Department of Education, 16 million borrowers have already been approved for relief. As a result of these overtly political lawsuits, tens of millions of borrowers are now left in economic limbo.
No student loan borrower with a federally-held loan has been required to make a student loan payment since March 2020 when former President Donald Trump signed the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act, pausing student loan payments and suspending interest charges for federal borrowers. This set of protections was extended via executive actions in August 2020, December 2020, January 2021, August 2021, December 2021, April 2022, and August 2022.
Yesterday, November 22, President Biden again extended this pause on student loan payments and tied this extension directly to the outcome of these lawsuits. This time, the President extended the payment pause until June 30, 2023, or 60 days after the final disposition of the lawsuits.
On November 15, 2022, a panel of judges in State of Nebraska et. al. v Biden granted the motion by six Republican-led states to block President Biden’s plan to cancel up to $20,000 in student debt for tens of millions of federal student loan borrowers. These states sought a preliminary injunction, arguing that debt cancellation must be stopped because the profits of lenders and servicers, like student loan giant Missouri Higher Education Loan Authority (MOHELA), were more important than—and threatened by—the Administration’s efforts to ensure the financial well-being of millions of Americans saddled with student loan debt in the time of a national emergency. The Administration has argued that this cancellation of debt is critical to ensure that student loan borrowers are not harmed as it ends the payment pause.
On Wednesday, October 12, 2022, a federal judge heard oral arguments to consider whether to grant MOHELA’s motion to block student debt relief for tens of millions of people. That judge denied the motion and dismissed the case. The plaintiffs appealed to the 8th circuit and motioned for an emergency injunction pending the appeal. That injunction was granted on November 14, 2022.
Last week, the Department of Justice petitioned the U.S. Supreme Court to vacate the national injunction.
A compendium of lower court filings and opinions in Nebraska, Missouri, et. al. v. Biden is available here: https://www.supremecourt.gov/DocketPDF/22/22A444/246931/20221118113849375_Nebraska%20Stay%20Appl%20Appendix.pdf
A copy of the petition to the U.S. Supreme Court filed by the U.S. Department of Justice is available here: https://www.supremecourt.gov/DocketPDF/22/22A444/246931/20221118113829714_Nebraska%20Vacatur%20Application%20FINAL.pdf
Cease and desist letter from AFT and SBPC to student loan giant MOHELA for unlawfully blocking borrowers’ right to student debt relief: https://protectborrowers.org/missouri-based-student-loan-giant-accused-of-illegal-loan-servicing-practices-scheme-to-block-student-debt-relief-for-millions-of-borrowers/
About Student Borrower Protection Center
The Student Borrower Protection Center (SBPC) is a nonprofit organization focused on alleviating the burden of student debt for millions of Americans. The SBPC engages in advocacy, policymaking, and litigation strategy to rein in industry abuses, protect borrowers’ rights, and advance economic opportunity for the next generation of students.
About Democracy Forward
Democracy Forward Foundation (Democracy Forward) is a nonprofit legal organization founded in 2017 that litigates cases involving government action on behalf of organizations, individuals, and municipalities. The organization has taken 650 legal actions and achieved victories supporting democracy and improving the lives and wellbeing of people and communities. Democracy Forward Foundation is a 501(c)(3) non-profit organization.
About the American Federation of Teachers, AFL-CIO
The American Federation of Teachers (AFT) represents 1.7 million pre-K through 12th-grade teachers; paraprofessionals and other school-related personnel; higher education faculty and professional staff; federal, state and local government employees; nurses and healthcare workers; and early childhood educators.