The Supreme Court is expected to announce a decision on the constitutionality of President Biden’s student loan forgiveness plan in the next few weeks. Biden’s original debt relief plan would have canceled up to $20,000 for the millions of borrowers struggling with student loans across the country. The program has been on pause due to Republican-led legal challenges since last year.
The oral arguments heard in February highlighted the main areas of debate over the student loan plan. The conservative judges’ skepticism is based on the fact that there is no specific legislation authorizing the debt relief program. Chief Justice John Roberts drew similarities to a previous case under the Trump administration where Trump attempted to cancel the “Dreamers” program (the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals), and the court rejected this repeal. The conservative judges tend to support the idea that Congress alone should have the authority to decide on “big issues.”
In response to the conservative judges’ questioning, US Solicitor General Elizabeth Prelogar said that “Congress has already made the judgment that when there is a national emergency that affects borrowers in this way, the secretary can provide relief.” The liberal justices defended Biden’s plan, acknowledging the 50 million students who will benefit, especially following the financial devastation of the pandemic. Justice Sonia Sotomayor stated during the arguments, “so now we’re going to give judges the right to decide how much aid to give them, instead of the person with the expertise and the experience, the secretary of education, who has been dealing with educational issues and the problems surrounding student loans.”
The opposition claims that this relief would primarily be benefiting the more privileged demographic, who earned a 4 year degree and are now working a higher paying job that will allow them to pay off their loans. However, a study found that 40% of college students in 2011 that took on student debt never earned a degree and did not reap the benefits of a college education. 20 million people would be debt free if this program is approved and the Biden administration estimated that 90% of the relief would go towards people making under $75,000 a year. People of color are also disproportionately carrying the majority of student loan debt in the country.
Of course, this student loan program does not address the root of the problem with the cost of college tuition. It is a one-off payment that will not benefit future students. But, millions of borrowers would receive much needed relief and many would be in a better financial position when the pause on interest and payments expires this year. In the meantime, we need to contend with the structural problems of America’s higher education and push for legislation that will make college education more accessible and cheaper for students.