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Biden admits Supreme Court is not likely to allow his student loan forgiveness plan

By Ben Marquis
|
March 2, 2023

The Supreme Court on Tuesday heard oral arguments in two cases challenging President Joe Biden's controversial student loan debt forgiveness plan, and by most accounts, the arguments did not go particularly well for the Biden administration in front of the conservative-leaning high court.

President Biden himself even acknowledged on Wednesday that he was "not confident" that the Supreme Court would ultimately rule in his favor, The Hill reported.

"I’m not confident about the outcome"

Prior to leaving the White House on the Marine One helicopter Wednesday evening, President Biden stopped briefly to speak with reporters and was asked, "Sir, on student loans, are you still confident that you will be able to win in the Supreme Court?"

"I’m confident we’re on the right side of the law, but I’m not confident about the outcome of the decision yet," the president replied.

Biden had announced in August 2022, in a belated effort to fulfill a 2020 campaign promise, a unilateral plan to cancel up to $20,000 of certain student loan debts held by individual borrowers, and cited as his authority to do so a law passed in the wake of the Sept. 11, 2001 terror attacks that allows for the Education secretary to, in limited emergency circumstances, "waive or modify" the terms of federally-backed financial assistance for students.

That authority has been challenged now in two separate cases -- one brought by a group of states, the other by two individuals -- and both of those cases were argued on Tuesday before the Supreme Court.

Biden's claimed authority challenged

According to SCOTUSblog, all of the six Republican-appointed justices of the Supreme Court expressed their skepticism, to some extent, with regard to the claimed authority of the administration to unilaterally cancel student loan debt for tens of millions of borrowers.

First up was the case of Biden v. Nebraska, in which six states with Republican attorneys general argued that the states had standing to challenge "whether the plan exceeds the secretary of education's statutory authority or is arbitrary and capricious."

They argued that Congress, when it passed the cited HEROES Act, had not granted the executive branch the authority to sweepingly cancel student loan debts but simply to make minor tweaks to the terms of how and when debts would be paid off, and further asserted that only Congress could authorize the appropriation of the estimated $400 billion-plus to pay off the canceled loans.

The second case is known as Department of Education v. Brown, and it involves two individuals with existing student loan debt -- one who did not qualify for any relief, the other who qualified for only partial relief -- who similarly argued that they had standing to challenge "whether the department's plan is statutorily authorized and was adopted in a procedurally proper manner."

In both cases, based on their respective lines of questioning, it became quite clear that the six Republican-appointed justices had largely sided with the challengers and were highly skeptical of the administration's claimed authority, while the three Democrat-appointed justices made it equally clear that they backed the administration and supported the debt relief plan.

No backup plan in place if program is struck down

Prior to President Biden's expressed lack of confidence in how the Supreme Court would rule on his student loan debt relief plan, White House press secretary Karine Jean-Pierre sang a different tune while fending off several questions about the oral arguments one day earlier during Wednesday's press briefing.

Asked if the administration had any message for potential beneficiaries of the plan -- and if there was a backup plan in place -- if the Supreme Court struck down the president's program, Jean-Pierre stood by Biden's solicitor general and asserted that there were no alternate plans because the White House firmly believed that its authority would be upheld.

"We, you know -- the plan that we put forward in August is the plan that we have -- right? -- which is a -- which is also a plan that you heard the Solicitor General really defend in a -- in a very strong and powerful way yesterday. And that’s our plan," the press secretary said.

"And we believe in our legal authority to get that done, to get it implemented," she continued. Asked again if there was a "backup plan" in place in case the program was deemed "unconstitutional," Jean-Pierre replied, "No, I just said, that’s our plan. This is our -- our focus right now is getting this done."

Decision not likely until June or July

Jean-Pierre was asked a few more questions later in the briefing about the Supreme Court possibly ruling against President Biden's student loan debt relief plan, but she simply reiterated her prepared talking points on the matter and declined to provide any further details.

Given the "controversial" nature of these two challenges to Biden's plan, The Hill noted that a decision likely wouldn't be released until May or June, while SCOTUSblog pushed the likely opinion release date back even further to late June or early July.