Chief Justice Roberts Is Not Feeling Biden’s Student Debt Forgiveness Plan

While the Supreme Court heard oral arguments on Tuesday about challenges to President Joe Biden’s plan to cancel a significant tranche of federal student loans, Chief Justice John Roberts asked the question, ‘We’re talking about half a trillion dollars and 43 million Americans. How does that fit under the normal understanding of “modify?”’

The Biden administration contends that the HEROES Act, an existing law, allows the secretary of education to “waive or modify” any statutory or regulatory provision that applies to student financial assistance programs if the secretary determines that such action is necessary to ensure that borrowers are not financially harmed as a result of a national emergency.

Nevertheless, Roberts, who is regarded as a swing vote, seemed to be unsure whether the word “modify” might mean canceling a variety of loans. The late conservative Justice Antonin Scalia wrote a portion of an opinion in 1994 that the chief justice quoted before addressing the aforementioned query.

Scalia said the following: “In our opinion, the word “modify” denotes a moderate modification. The French Revolution may have “changed” the standing of the French nobility, but that is only possible in English because of the literary devices of irony and understatement.

The U.S. solicitor general, Elizabeth Prelogar, responded to Roberts’ mention of Scalia’s opinion.

Prelogar, who was arguing for the Biden administration before the high court, stated, “I don’t read that ruling to bring forth a general meaning of modify.

The Supreme Court’s decision in 2020 that the Trump administration couldn’t end the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program, which has given legal protections and work authorizations to undocumented immigrants known as “Dreamers” (i.e., those brought to the U.S. as children), also reminded Roberts of the arguments on student loans on Tuesday.

The chief judge stated, “We take very seriously the principle of division of powers, and that power should be separated to prevent its abuse.

“The case reminds me of the one we had a few years ago, when a previous government tried to end the Dreamers program on its own, acting unilaterally. And we stopped that attempt.

Experts have predicted that Biden’s loan forgiveness proposal will most certainly be rejected by the Supreme Court, which has a 6-3 conservative majority.

According to Jillian Berman of MarketWatch, the first thing the court will consider is whether the parties opposing Biden’s forgiveness plan have standing, or the authority to file a lawsuit.

If the court rules that the plaintiffs have standing to file a lawsuit, it will then assess the case’s merits or whether the Biden administration is authorized to erase student loan debt under the statute.

The court’s judgment is anticipated to come in June, but as the attorneys gave their oral arguments on Tuesday, the nine justices started to show their preferences.

In August, Biden made his eagerly anticipated statement on federal student loans, stating that his administration would be wiping off $10,000 in debt for each borrower for those making under $125,000 annually or less than $250,000 for households.

He also announced the forgiveness of up to $20,000 per borrower for Pell grant applicants as the midterm elections in November draw closer.

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