On Thursday, a U.S. judge ruled that President Joe Biden’s plan to write off hundreds of billions of dollars of student loan debt is illegal and must be scrapped, bringing victory to the program’s conservative opponents.
Texas federal judge Mark Pittman, appointed by former Republican President Donald Trump in Fort Worth, called the program “an unconstitutional exercise of the legislative power of Congress,” ruling in favor of two borrowers backed by a conservative advocacy group.
The debt relief plan has already been temporarily blocked by the U.S. 8th Circuit Court of Appeals in St. Louis as it considers a request from six Republican-led states to ban it while they appeal the rejection of their own claim.
The judge’s decision came in the wake of a lawsuit by two borrowers who were partially or wholly ineligible for the loan forgiveness offered by the Biden plan. The plaintiffs argued that this did not comply with due process regulations and was illegal.
The borrowers were backed by the Job Creators Network Foundation, a conservative advocacy group founded by Home Depot co-founder Bernie Marcus.
The US Department of Justice quickly appealed the decision. White House press secretary Karine Jean-Pierre said in a statement that the administration does not agree with the decision.
About 26 million Americans have applied for student loan forgiveness, and the US Department of Education has already approved 16 million applications. Jean-Pierre said the department would keep his information “so it can quickly process your assistance once we win our case in court.”
“We will never stop fighting for the hardworking Americans who need it most, no matter how many obstacles our adversaries and special interests try to put in our way,” he said.
The Biden plan was the subject of several lawsuits by conservative state attorneys general and legal groups, but the plaintiffs struggled until Thursday to convince the courts that they were harmed by it in a way that they have the right to sue.
The plan, announced in August, would write off up to $10,000 of student loan debt for borrowers making less than $125,000 a year, or $250,000 for married couples. Borrowers who receive Pell grants for low-income college students will have up to $20,000 of their debt written off.
In September, the non-partisan Congressional Budget Office estimated that debt relief would eliminate about $430 billion of the $1.6 trillion in outstanding student debt and that more than 40 million people were eligible for assistance.
In his 26-page ruling, Pittman said it didn’t matter if Biden’s plan was good public policy because the program was “one of the largest acts of legislative power without the powers of Congress in American history.”
Pittman wrote that the HEROES Act, a law that provides credit assistance to military personnel and that the Biden administration relied on to pass the relief plan, did not authorize the $400 billion student loan write-off program.
“In this country, we are not ruled by an omnipotent leader with a pen and a telephone,” Pittman wrote. “Instead, we are guided by the Constitution, which establishes three separate and independent branches of government.”
Elaine Parker, president of the Job Creators Network Foundation, said in a statement that the decision “protects the rule of law, which requires all Americans to be heard in the federal government.”