Student Loans

Showdown Over Student Loan Forgiveness Hits Supreme Court Tomorrow

Plus: Texas prosecutors can't criminally charge people who help others access out-of-state abortions, food trucks fight rules banning them in 96 percent of North Carolina city, and more...


Challenge to Biden's student debt plan hits Supreme Court tomorrow. On Tuesday, the Supreme Court will hear two lawsuits challenging President Joe Biden's plan to erase a huge chunk of student loan debt.

Biden's debt forgiveness plan, announced last August, applies to anyone with an income under $125,000 and allows for the cancellation of up to $10,000 in student loan debt for all borrowers and up to $20,000 for those with Pell Grants. Biden justified this giant flex of executive power by citing COVID-19.

Specifically, the Biden administration argues that the Higher Education Relief Opportunities for Students (HEROES) Act of 2003—which "permits the Secretary of Education to waive or modify Federal student financial assistance program requirements to help students and their families or academic institutions affected by a war, other military operation, or national emergency"—could be invoked in the summer of 2022 because of the coronavirus pandemic. (Never mind that Biden also said around the same time that the pandemic was "over.")

"The HEROES Act was designed to let the executive branch ameliorate the student loan situations of service members fighting the war on terror," wrote Reason's Eric Boehm last summer. But Biden twisted that to accomplish something Democrats have long wanted to do but have been unable to accomplish through the proper legislative channels.

The administration's move quickly provoked a spate of lawsuits, which have since been winding their way through the federal court system. As part of this process, a federal appeals court issued a temporary injunction against the debt forgiveness.

The Supreme Court has agreed to hear two of the challenges. One suit was filed by the attorneys general of six states (Arkansas, Iowa, Kansas, Missouri, Nebraska, and South Carolina), who argue "that the debt-relief plan will harm state revenues and agencies that hold student loans," reports Inside Higher Ed. The other suit was brought by two Texans who "challenged the debt-relief plan because they wouldn't benefit from all the provisions and didn't have the chance to comment on the proposal."

More from Inside Higher Ed:

The plaintiffs argue in the lawsuits that the Higher Education Relief Opportunities for Students Act of 2003 does not authorize the debt-relief plan—an argument that one federal judge has already agreed with….The Biden administration has said the law clearly authorizes the program and that relief is necessary to ensure those affected by the pandemic aren't in a worse position financially once student loan payments resume. Payments are currently paused through the end of June, or 60 days after the lawsuits are resolved, whichever comes first.

The plaintiffs also want the justices to apply the major-questions doctrine to the case, which says in part that agencies need clear congressional authorization when carrying out policies that have economic and political significance. The court recently used the doctrine to strike down the Environmental Protection Agency's Clean Power Plan last year.

Conservative legal experts and the plaintiffs say in filings that the lawsuits are ideal for the major-questions doctrine because of the scale of the debt-relief program and what it would mean for executive power.

"What we have to remember is that the court certainly knows its decision here is never just going to be confined to this one instance," said Jack Fitzhenry, senior legal policy analyst at the conservative think tank the Heritage Foundation. "As large and important as the question of student loan cancellation is, the kind of law that they set for what future presidents can do and what future secretaries can do—that's going to have enormous impacts on how policy preferences are pursued by this administration and future administration."

The Supreme Court arguments will also examine the question of standing. Last October, the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Missouri ruled that the six states challenging Biden's loan plan did not have standing to do so. In November, however, a three-judge panel of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 8th Circuit unanimously concluded that at least some of the states did.

That same month, another federal court—this one hearing the challenge by the two Texas residents—ruled Biden's plan unconstitutional. "In this country, we are not ruled by an all-powerful executive with a pen and a phone," U.S. District Judge Mark T. Pittman wrote in his decision. "Instead, we are ruled by a Constitution that provides for three distinct and independent branches of government."

And a few days later, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 8th Circuit granted an emergency motion for a nationwide injunction on implementing the student loan plan. Which brings us to tomorrow's showdown in the Supreme Court.

George Mason University law professor Ilya Somin has more on the question of standing here and more on the broader issues at stake here. "The administration's ultra-broad interpretation of the HEROES Act runs afoul of the Supreme Court's recent rulings on the 'major questions' doctrine," writes Somin. He adds that "Biden's loan-forgiveness plan is not the first time a president has tried to leverage emergency powers to raid the federal treasury for purposes denied by Congress. In 2019, Trump used a dubious emergency declaration to try to divert funds to build his border wall, despite the fact Congress had repeatedly refused to authorize any such expenditure."

"As with Trump, the use of emergency powers here is a pretext for achieving an unrelated policy objective rejected by Congress," Somin adds.


Texas prosecutors can't criminally charge people who aid access to out-of-state abortions. A federal court says Texas prosecutors can't seek criminal charges against groups that help women fund and travel to out-of-state abortions. The preliminary decision, from U.S. District Judge Robert Pitman, comes as part of a lawsuit filed by several groups that help Texas women terminate their pregnancies. The groups are seeking to block enforcement of state abortion laws enacted in 1961.

Pittman said on Friday that the laws "were rendered unconstitutional by the U.S. Supreme Court's 1973 ruling in Roe v. Wade" and "were not revived when the Supreme Court overturned Roe last June," reports Yahoo News:

Pitman's order, which is preliminary, will remain in place while abortion funding groups, including Fund Texas Choice, The North Texas Equal Access Fund and The Lilith Fund for Reproductive Equity, move forward with a lawsuit seeking to block enforcement of the laws.

The order applies only to five individual local prosecutors who are named as defendants in the case, though the groups have said they will seek to expand their case to include a class of all local prosecutors in the state. Pitman said that he could issue an order applying to a broader group of prosecutors in the future, after they have had a chance to appear in court.

The lawsuit does not concern a 2021 Texas law that banned abortion at six weeks pregnancy as well as "aiding and abetting" an abortion. That law does not authorize the state to seek criminal penalties but rather relies on civil lawsuits brought by private citizens as a means of enforcement.

The Volokh Conspiracy has more on Pittman's ruling.


Food trucks banned in 96 percent of North Carolina city. Food truck owners in Jacksonville, North Carolina, are miffed about the city's strict rules about where food trucks can operate:

Joe and Amanda Broda of Joeve's Pizza moved to Jacksonville in 2018, where Joe is originally from. The Brodas got their business license through the city of Jacksonville but soon found out that only 4% of the city is available for food trucks to operate….

[P]roperty owners cannot host a food truck if the property falls within 250 feet of property containing another food truck, restaurant or residential housing.

Joe said they actually had the police called on them one night when they were set up at a local business, because despite their having permission from the property owner, it was illegal.

Several Jacksonville-area food trucks are challenging the city's rules* with the help of the nonprofit law firm Institute for Justice (IJ).

"The city's stifling economic protectionism violates the North Carolina Constitution," argues IJ. "People have a fundamental right to use their private property in safe and reasonable ways free from arbitrary, irrational and protectionist government regulations, such as by inviting someone to earn an honest living on that property by selling safe and quality seafood or cheesesteaks from a food truck. They also have a right to equal treatment under the law, meaning the city can't prohibit food trucks in areas where it allows similar restaurants unless it has a good and legitimate reason for singling food trucks out."

The city has filed a motion to dismiss the suit.


• "The U.S. Energy Department has concluded that the Covid pandemic most likely arose from a laboratory leak," reports The Wall Street Journal.

• The Food and Drug Administration has approved an at-home combination flu and COVID-19 test.

• Biden's plans to break up big tech companies are faltering. "Halfway through his term, the movement's losses have outpaced its wins, key figures are stepping down and Republican control of the House has taken bills that could break up tech giants off the table," says The Washington Post.

• Comic book images that "are not the product of human authorship" cannot be copyrighted, says the U.S. Copyright Office.

• A nuclear physicist suffering from severe bipolar disorder killed himself in an Alexandria, Virginia, jail after staff discontinued his medications. Now his 16-year-old daughter is suing.

• The A.I. chatbot ChatGPT "is credited with authoring or co-authoring at least 200 books on Amazon's storefront," reports Engadget.

*CORRECTION: The Brodas are not part of the IJ lawsuit.