The U.S. Supreme Court is set to hear arguments on Tuesday in two challenges to President Joe Biden’s plan to forgive or reduce student loans held by millions of Americans. The plan, which has been blocked by Republican-appointed judges on lower courts, is estimated to cost $400 billion over 30 years and has become a partisan legal fight.
The Biden administration says that 26 million people have applied and 16 million have been approved to have up to $20,000 in federal student loans forgiven. However, Republican-led states and lawmakers, as well as conservative legal interests, argue that the plan is a clear violation of Biden’s executive authority.
The administration contends that a 2003 law, commonly known as the HEROES Act, allows the secretary of education to waive or modify the terms of federal student loans in connection with a national emergency. The law was primarily intended to keep service members from being worse off financially while they fought in wars in Afghanistan and Iraq.
Without the plan, loan defaults are expected to dramatically increase when the pause on loan payments ends no later than this summer. Payments were halted in 2020 as part of the response to the coronavirus pandemic.
The court’s 6-3 conservative majority could pose a challenge to Biden’s plan. The justices have been skeptical of other Biden initiatives related to the pandemic, including vaccine requirements and pauses on evictions. However, the loan forgiveness plan is aimed at countering the economic effects of the pandemic.
The national emergency is expected to end on May 11, but the administration says the economic consequences will persist despite historically low unemployment and other signs of economic strength.
The court will also confront whether the states and two individuals whose challenge is before the justices have the legal right, or standing, to sue. Parties generally have to show that they would suffer financial harm and benefit from a court ruling in their favor.
Of the two individuals who sued in Texas, one has student loans that are commercially held, and the other is eligible for $10,000 in debt relief, not the $20,000 maximum. They would get nothing if they win their case.
Dozens of borrowers from across the country camped out near the court on Monday evening in hopes of getting a seat for the arguments. Among them was Sinyetta Hill, a 22-year-old student who plans to study law after she graduates from the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee in May. Hill said that Biden’s plan would erase all but about $500 of the $20,000 or so she has in student loans.
“I was 18 when I signed up for college. I didn’t know it was going to be this big of a burden. No student should have to deal with this. No person should have to deal with this,” she said.