A federal judge in Fort Worth, Texas, delivered a ruling damaging President Joe Biden’s student debt relief plan, after a conservative advocacy group challenged it, calling it an unconstitutional move by the administration.
The lawsuit was filed by the conservative Job Creators Network Foundation in October, after a borrower was unable to qualify for the full $20,000, and another was ineligible for the program.
Challengers to the president’s multibillion-dollar college debt relief program say the administration violated federal procedures by denying borrowers the chance to offer public comment on the plan before its August unveiling.
U.S. District Judge Mark Pittman agreed, and declared the program “unlawful” in a Thursday order.
“No one can plausibly deny that it is either one of the largest delegations of legislative power to the executive branch, or one of the largest exercises of legislative power without congressional authority in the history of the United States,” Pittman wrote in the 26-page order.
Pittman had previously signaled his interest in quickly deciding the case, noting that it wouldn’t take the court long to determine if the plaintiffs had standing, or the right to sue, because they’ve been injured by the policy.
Several lawsuits have been filed against the debt relief plan. Some plaintiffs, from Indiana and Wisconsin, filed emergency applications to the Supreme Court. Both of these were dismissed for what many legal experts believe to be a lack of standing. Several other challenges are ongoing in lower courts.
In the case decided by Pittman, the plaintiffs alleged the Biden administration made arbitrary decisions about who qualified for the plan and how much of their balances would be canceled as part of the program.
One plaintiff in the case, Alexander Taylor, is under the income threshold, and eligible to receive $10,000 removed from the $35,000 in student loans he owes after he received a degree from the University of Dallas. Taylor sued in part because he never received a Pell Grant, a form of federal aid for low-income borrowers, and he doesn’t meet qualifications for the full $20,000 Pell given to Pell recipients.
The Department of Justice responded to the complaint by contending the 2003 statute used by the administration to implement Biden’s plan, known as the Heroes Act, does not require notice or comment.
The Biden administration has maintained that the Heroes Act gives the Department of Education the ability to “alleviate the hardship that federal student loan recipients may suffer as a result of national emergencies.”
DOJ attorneys said that the constraints of the program were backed by research indicating that risk of late payments or even default is more concentrated among low-income borrowers and Pell recipients, and that the plaintiff’s claims do not equate to concrete injury.