A federal judge in Fort Worth, Texas, delivered another blow to President Joe Biden‘s student debt relief plan in a win for a conservative advocacy group that challenged it as an unconstitutional move by the administration.
The lawsuit was filed by the conservative Job Creators Network Foundation in October on behalf of a borrower who did not qualify for the full $20,000 in debt relief and another who is 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.
“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.
The Justice Department filed a notice of appeal with the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 5th Circuit within a couple of hours.
“We strongly disagree with the District Court’s ruling on our student debt relief program and the Department of Justice has filed an appeal,” White House press secretary Karine Jean-Pierre said in a statement. “The President and this Administration are determined to help working and middle-class Americans get back on their feet, while our opponents — backed by extreme Republican special interests — sued to block millions of Americans from getting much-needed relief.”
“For the 26 million borrowers who have already given the Department of Education the necessary information to be considered for debt relief — 16 million of whom have already been approved for relief — the Department will hold onto their information so it can quickly process their relief once we prevail in court,” she added. “We will never stop fighting for hardworking Americans most in need — no matter how many roadblocks our opponents and special interests try to put in our way.”
Pittman issued an order earlier this month signaling his interest in moving quickly to decide the case, noting it wouldn’t take the court so much time to determine if the plaintiffs had standing, or the right to sue, because they’ve been injured by the policy.
In a separate legal battle over the debt relief plan, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 8th Circuit granted a stay against the program after six Republican-led states sued.
Several lawsuits have been filed against the debt relief plan, including plaintiffs from Indiana and Wisconsin who filed emergency applications to the Supreme Court, which were dismissed for what many legal experts believe to be a lack of standing. Several other challenges are ongoing in lower courts.
Republican attorneys general, lawmakers, and conservative organizations have been deliberating on ways to challenge the measure since Biden announced it in May. The plan pushed back the deadline on paying federal student loans until earlier 2023 and aims to forgive up to $10,000 in loan debt for borrowers making less than $125,000 per year, while those who received Pell Grants would have up to $20,000 of their debt canceled.
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.
A plaintiff in the case, Alexander Taylor, is under the income threshold and is eligible to receive $10,000 removed from the $35,000 student loans he maintains from a degree at the University of Dallas, according to court records. 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 does not require notice or comment.
The Biden administration has maintained that the 2003 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 further said that the constraints of the program were backed by research that shows a risk of late payments or even default is more concentrated among lower-income borrowers and Pell recipients, adding that the pair of plaintiffs’ claims do not amount to concrete injury.