The Supreme Court is in the final week of its term, and it is expected to issue all remaining verdicts on pending matters. That means debtors who are counting on President Joe Biden’s promise to cancel up to $20,000 in student debt will likely find out shortly whether they will resume payments this autumn with a lower number — or if they will be forced back into repayment with no relief.
The high court might rule on the student debt relief plan as early as Tuesday, with the option of adding extra decision days for the rest of the week.
Biden’s loan-forgiveness plan has been on hold since November due to two conservative-backed lawsuits aiming to permanently prevent the assistance from reaching borrowers. One of the lawsuits, US Department of Education v. Brown, was filed by two student-loan debtors who were denied the entire $20,000 in relief. In the other case, Biden v. Nebraska, six Republican-led states argued that debt relief would harm their tax revenues as well as the earnings of the student-loan firm MOHELA.
In February, the Supreme Court heard oral arguments in the cases, and the issue of standing dominated questioning. Even before a court decides whether the challenged policy is legal, it must first determine whether the plaintiffs have standing to sue the government. This means the plaintiff must demonstrate that the policy would cause them harm, that the harm could be traced back to the defendant, and that the relief they seek would address those injuries.
Liberal justices and conservative Justice Amy Coney Barrett deliberated on whether the states had standing to sue the federal government. One important point of contention is whether the states may include MOHELA in their lawsuit, given the student-loan firm has denied involvement.
In addition, recent Supreme Court decisions have offered light on how justices are scrutinizing standing problems more closely. Two cases brought by states were dismissed in separate rulings authored by conservative judges Brett Kavanaugh and Merrick Garland because the judges determined the states lacked standing to sue the federal government. While the circumstances of those cases differ from those of student loans, there are some striking parallels to the standing issues highlighted by the justices during oral arguments.
For example, in the case Haaland v. Brackeen, Texas was among the petitioners that challenged the Indian Child Welfare Act of 1978. Barrett wrote in her opinion that “we reject all of petitioners’ challenges to the statute, some on the merits and others for lack of standing.”
“That should make the issue open and shut,” Barrett wrote.
In addition, Kavanaugh’s judgment addressed the case United States v. Texas, in which Texas accused the Department of Homeland Security of breaking federal law in its treatment of non-US citizens who entered the nation unlawfully. The decision concluded that Texas lacked standing in the claim since the federal immigration policy had no direct impact on the state. According to Kavanaugh, “precedents and longstanding historical practice establish that the States’ suit here is not the kind redressable by a federal court.”
Of course, it’s uncertain how the Supreme Court will treat the student debt cancellation cases. Regardless of the judgment, the Education Department has stated that student loan payments will resume in October, with interest on borrowers’ balances beginning to accumulate again in September. The government has yet to comment on a contingency plan for relief in the case of a bad verdict, but several Democratic lawmakers have stated that they will fight for borrowers regardless of the outcome.
“We are prepared in the event of any outcome in this ruling,” New York Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez said last week. “We are here to fight, and we are here to make sure, and encourage, and have the president’s back, in making sure that this cancellation goes through for the millions of people in the United States.”