President Joe Biden’s plan to unilaterally forgive $20,000 of student loan debt, broadly seen as an unconstitutional gimmick to boost Democratic turnout prior to the 2022 midterm elections, was struck down Friday by a 6-3 majority on the U.S. Supreme Court.
The Biden Administration had argued that the president had the authority to shift up to $20,000 per borrower of debt onto the taxpayers because of the 2003 Higher Education Relief Opportunities for Students (HEROES) Act.
Chief Justice John Roberts rejected that argument, insisting that court precedent required “Congress speak clearly before a department secretary can unilaterally alter large sections of the American economy.”
The student debt issue before SCOTUS involved two cases. The first was filed by two holders of student debt, and SCOTUS ruled that they lacked standing to bring their case. The other decision was a challenge to Biden’s program brought by six states, which prevailed.
The plan, had it not been unconstitutional, would have impacted up to 43 million American debtors, including more than 100,000 Mainers.
Biden announced his intention to address student debt during his 2020 campaign against former Republican President Donald Trump. He later released the executive action just prior to the 2022 midterm election.
The Biden Administration even went so far as to create a website where student debt holders could sign up to have their debts forgiven, leading many to believe that the loan forgiveness program was a done deal.
Although Democratic Members of Congress condemned the decision as “disappointing and cruel,” the Congress never endeavored to pass a law authorizing the debt forgiveness scheme when Democrats controlled both the House and the Senate during Biden’s first two years in the White House.
Had the Democrat-controlled Congress merely passed a bill implementing the plan, SCOTUS would never have heard a case challenging the constitutionality of Biden’s unilateral action.
Conservatives on social media hailed the decision as a recognition of the constitutional limits on executive authority, while left-wing posters lamented the revelation that those who took on student debt will be responsible for paying it off.
Rep. Chellie Pingree, who has advocated for packing the court with liberal justices who will support Democratic Party policies, renewed her calls this week in response the student loan decision and several other decisions that fell in conservatives favor.
Rep. Jared Golden, who represents Maine’s more conservative 2nd Congressional District, was quieter on the courts decisions this week, as were Maine’s Senators Angus King and Susan Collins.