When President Joe Biden announced his federal student loan forgiveness plan on Aug. 24, 2022, millions of borrowers entertained hopes of having up to $20,000 in debt cancelled. Ten months later, the plan is still in limbo — and the U.S. Supreme Court, which will decide its fate, seems determined to delay its decision until the very last minute.
The SCOTUS has still not ruled on the case even though justices are scheduled to break for summer recess within two weeks. A decision is expected by June 30, but the clock is ticking, and many student loan borrowers are anxious to know when and if they’ll have to resume payments.
“Waiting to hear whether or not it will pass is nerve-wracking at best, debilitating at worst,” Richelle Brooks, 35, a single mother in Los Angeles and student loan borrower, told CNBC. “We’re all staying tied to our phones each week.”
The Supreme Court’s delay in making a decision might be frustrating for borrowers, but it’s not necessarily surprising because of the complexity of the loan forgiveness case.
“Given all the moving pieces — and given the case’s significance — I’m not surprised to see it come so late in the term,” Steven Schwinn, a law professor at the University of Illinois Chicago, told CNBC.
That point was echoed by Northeastern University law professor Dan Urman, who told CNBC that “the more complicated, difficult cases tend to take longer.”
Most legal experts expect the conservative-majority SCOTUS to rule against the Biden plan. Following oral arguments in early March, the AP reported that conservative justices “showed skepticism” about the legality of the plan. Several justices suggested that the White House had exceeded its authority by canceling an estimated $400 billion in debt.
So why have those same justices taken so long to issue a ruling?
As CNBC noted, there’s “no precedent” for this kind of program, which ranks among the costliest executive actions in U.S. history. Sorting through the various arguments takes time — especially when considering whether the administration can use an executive action to implement such an ambitious program.
As previously reported by GOBankingRates, the Biden administration contends that the Heroes Act of 2023 grants presidential authority for student loan relief. The act grants certain powers in the event of war or national emergency — and in the case of loan forgiveness, the national emergency was the COVID-19 pandemic. The recent end of national emergency undercuts that argument, however.
Meanwhile, plaintiffs against the administration argue that the Heroes Act only allows for narrow applications of relief and not the sweeping plan Biden proposes, CNBC reported.
At the same time, the SCOTUS must consider if the plaintiffs have made a convincing argument of being harmed by the Biden plan. This typically requires gaining the right to sue — and justice Amy Coney Barrett seems “especially unconvinced” that the plaintiffs have proven harm, according to Jed Shugerman, a law professor at Fordham University and Boston University.
“Barrett was vocally and deeply uncomfortable about ruling that any of the plaintiffs had standing,” Shugerman told CNBC, adding that at least one or two other conservative justices seem “conflicted” over the issue.
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