·  Legal News, Analysis, & Commentary

Political Litigation

Federal Judge Rejects GOP-Led States’ Effort to Overturn Student Debt Relief

— October 21, 2022

Supreme Court Justice Amy Coney Barrett also rejected a separate lawsuit intended to block Biden’s debt relief plan from taking effect.

A federal judge has dismissed a lawsuit filed by six Republican-led states seeking to challenge President Joe Biden’s student debt relief program.

According to CNN, U.S. District Judge Edward Autrey said on Thursday that he was rejecting the claim of the Republican attorneys general because they had not demonstrated they had the proper legal standing to even file a lawsuit.

In this case, the attorneys general would have to show that Biden’s student debt relief program harmed the residents or governments of the litigating states.

“While plaintiffs present important and significant challenges to the debt relief plan,” Judge Autrey wrote in his ruling, “the current plaintiffs are unable to proceed to the resolution of these challenges.”

The lawsuit, writes The Missouri Independent, had broadly argued that each of the suing states would be harmed by the debt relief program, either through lost revenue on forgiven debt or indirectly through lost revenue to state-led agencies, such as the Missouri Higher Education Loan Authority (MOHELA).

However, Brian Netter—the deputy assistant attorney general for the Federal Programs Branch—said the possibility of some states losing income is not sufficient to establish legal standing.

Former Vice President and current President Joe Biden on the campaign trail in 2019. Image via Flickr/user:Gage Skidmore. (CCA-BY-2.0).

The states may, Netter argued, could simply avoid incurring any damages by changing their definition of what is considered “income.”

“The states are free to choose to tax these matters as they please,” Netter argued.

Netter also cited the COVID-19 pandemic as reason for the Biden administration to exercise its authority to alleviate hardship for student borrowers during national emergencies.

“The effects have to have been caused by the national emergency, and the relief has to be designed to remedy those harms,” Netter said. “The fact that the pandemic conditions seem to be improving now are neither here nor there.”

The states, notes the New York Times, said that they plan to appeal Autrey’s decision.

Suzanne Gage, spokeswoman for Nebraska Attorney General Doug Peterson, said that the states “continue to believe that they do in fact have standing to raise their important legal challenges.”

However, the multi-state lawsuit was seen as the biggest potential threat to Biden’s student debt relief program, which is scheduled to begin discharging loans as early as this Sunday.

According to the White House, over 12 million people applied for loan forgiveness in the last week.

The New York Times reports that the conservative-led Supreme Court also rejected another challenge to the debt relief program, with Justice Amy Coney Barrett declining to hear a lawsuit filed by a taxpayers’ association in Wisconsin.

Coney Barrett, adds the Times, declined the petition without comment—a common response to last-minute emergency applications.

Only Coney Barrett reviewed the lawsuit; she did not refer the application to the court, nor did she ask the Biden administration to offer a response.

The justice’s actions, suggests the New York Times, all suggest that the taxpayers’ lawsuit likely would not have survived intensive appeals.

Irrespective of the court’s rationale, Justice Barrett may have rejected the taxpayers’ claim because they, too, failed to establish legal standing.


Courts Reject Challenges to Biden Plan on Student Debt

Judge dismisses effort to halt student loan relief plan

Judge dismisses GOP states’ challenge to Biden student debt relief program

Missouri judge hears lawsuit challenging Biden student debt relief plan

Join the conversation!