President Joe Biden is facing an uphill battle for his student debt relief program.
The courts put the brakes on his previous effort in the fall, leaving more than 16 million borrowers who have been approved for the relief in limbo, according to the Education Department, reported by Politico.
But the Justice Department's got his back. DOJ officials argued in its opening brief Wednesday that Biden's efforts to cancel student debt for millions of Americans "fall comfortably" within the law and have "clear authorization" from Congress, according to Politico.
The DOJ's brief was submitted Wednesday and could impact a Biden signature program promising up to $20,000 of loan forgiveness for each borrower.
The court filing was submitted late Wednesday evening. It marks the initial steps of a battle at the court in the coming months over the fate of the student debt relief.
Oral arguments for the Supreme Court are scheduled for February.
One case led by six Republican states includes Nebraska and Missouri. The conservative advocacy group Job Creators Network brought the second case on behalf of two Texas students who were partially or fully excluded from the program, according to Politico.
The brief filed Wednesday says the Supreme Court should toss out the case due to the lack of legal standing to bring forward the case.
The Biden administration pushed back, saying they have the legal authority to cancel substantial amounts of debt under the HEROES Act, a 2003 law providing power to the Education Department to waive laws typically governing federal student loans during national emergencies, according to Politico.
The brief includes a section on Education Secretary Miguel Cardona's actions and says they "fall comfortably within the plain text" of the HEROES Act.
"The lower courts' orders have erroneously deprived the Secretary of his statutory authority to provide targeted student-loan debt relief to borrowers affected by national emergencies, leaving millions of economically vulnerable borrowers in limbo," the Justice Department wrote.
As Politico reported, the DOJ wrote in the brief "that ending that pause without providing some additional relief for lower-income borrowers would cause delinquency and default rates to spike above pre-pandemic levels."
The Republican states and Job Creators Network argue the Biden administration is using the COVID-19 pandemic to circumvent congressional approval for a program that will cost hundreds of billions of dollars. They claim it is illegal and an abuse of authority.
The states also allege the debt relief will reduce tax revenues or other funding related to state-related entities that own, manage or invest in federal student loans, according to Politico. A key aspect of their claim relies on how the debt relief would affect the Missouri Higher Education Loan Authority (MOHELA), a loan servicing company created by the state.
A group of Texas borrowers insist they were illegally deprived of the opportunity to provide feedback on the plan before it was ultimately finalized. They say they would have advocated for a more expanded debt relief program, according to Politico.
While the Supreme Court considers the case, the Biden administration extended the pause on federal student loan payments and interest. The administration said the payments will continue to be suspended until Aug. 30.
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