Court: Biden Student-Loan Forgiveness ‘One of Largest Exercises of Legislative Power Without Congressional Authority in History’ Staff | November 11, 2022 | 2:32pm EST
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(Photo by Samuel Corum/Getty Images)
(Photo by Samuel Corum/Getty Images)

( - The federal district court for the Northern District of Texas issued an order on Thursday vacating President Joe Biden’s executive action that would have forgiven an estimated $400 billion in student loan debt and declared that Biden’s plan was “one of the largest exercises of legislative power without congressional authority in the history of the United States.”

The court noted that Biden’s debt forgiveness plan effected three types of federal student loans. These included “Direct Loans,” “Federal Family Education Loans” (FFEL), and “Perkins Loans.”

“With Direct Loans,” said the court, “the federal government provides loans directly to borrowers, who are responsible for repaying the government.”

“With FFEL,” the court said, “the federal government pays lenders to offer student loans, and the federal government guarantees their repayment.”

“With Perkins Loans,” the court continued, “colleges loan money to students, and the federal government guarantees their repayment.”

In forgiving $400 billion worth of these loans, the Biden Administration argued in the court that it was acting under the Higher Education Relief Opportunities Act of 2003—otherwise known as the “HEROES Act.”

“The HEROES Act grants the Secretary of Education the authority to ‘waive or modify any statutory or regulatory provision applicable to the student financial assistance programs under title IV of the ACT as the Secretary deems necessary in connection with a war or other military operation or national emergency.”

“The term ‘national emergency,’” the court noted, “means  a national emergency declared by the President of the United States.”

Biden’s Department of Education argued they could forgive student loans under the HEROES Act in 2021 because President Donald Trump had declared the COVID-19 pandemic an emergency in 2020.

“The Secretary invoked its authority under the HEROES Act to create a loan-forgiveness program that would address the financial harms of the COVID-19 pandemic,” said the court. “The Secretary contends that COVID-19 pandemic was declared a national emergency by President Trump in 2020 and thus a ‘national emergency’ under the HEROES Act. And according to the Secretary every portion of the country is a ‘disaster area due to COVID-19’ and ‘every person with a federal student loan under title IV of the HEA’ is an affected individual.”

Under the Biden administration’s declaration: “A borrower qualifies [for loan forgiveness] if he (1) individually makes under $125,000 or $250,000 if married an filing taxes jointly and (2) has Direct, Perkins or FFEL loans that are not commercially held.

“If a borrower qualifies,” the court explained, “the program provided $20,000 in debt forgiveness to those who have received a Pell Grant and $10,000 to those who did not.”

Two individuals who had students loans but did not qualify for the Biden Administration’s loan forgiveness brought suit against the administration’s action. The court ruled in their favor.

“Plaintiffs contend that the Secretary lacks the authority to implement the program under the HEROES Act,” the court said.

The court noted in its opinion that ruled against the Biden Administration loan forgiveness plan that Congress had considered more than one legislative proposal for loan forgiveness—and had rejected them.

“Similarly, Congress has introduced multiple bills to provide student loan relief to those who make under a certain amount,” the court said. “And all have failed.

“A bill was also introduced—to respond to the economic impact of COVID-19—that provided the secretary the authority to ‘cancel or repay’ federal  student loans up to ‘$10,000 [of] the outstanding balance’ for certain borrowers,” said the court. “But this also failed.”

The court then concluded that the HEROES Act did not give the administration the authority to forgive federal student loans.

“First,” said the court, “the HEROES Act does not mention loan forgiveness.”

“Second,” it said, “the portions of the HEROES Act defendants rely on fail to provide clear congressional authorization for the program.”

“Thus,” the court concluded, “because the Department lacks ‘clear congressional authorization’ for the program under the HEROES Act, the court grants summary judgment in favor of the plaintiffs.”

The court then vacated the program.

“First, the agency’s misstep is not correctible on remand—it is a complete usurpation of congressional authorization implicating the separation of powers required by the Constitution,” the court explained.

“Whether the program constitutes good public policy is not the role of this court to determine,” the court said. “Still, 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.

“In this country,” the court concluded, “we are not ruled by an all-powerful executive with a pen and a phone. Instead, we are ruled by a Constitution that provides for three distinct and independent branches of government. As President James Madison warned, ‘[t]he accumulation of all powers, legislative, executive, and judiciary in the same hands, whether of one, a few, or many, and whether hereditary, self-appointed, or elective, may justly be pronounced the very definition of tyranny.’”

The opinion was written by Judge Mark Pittman. Pittman was nominated to the federal court by President Donald Trump and confirmed by the Senate in July 2019.

After the court released its opinion on Thursday, White House Press Secretary Karine Jean-Pierre issued a statement that said in part: "We strongly disagree with the District Court’s ruling on our student debt relief program and the Department of Justice has filed an appeal."

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