U.S. Supreme Court Justice Amy Coney Barrett on Thursday declined to block President Joe Biden’s plan to cancel billions of dollars in student debt, the legality of which had been challenged by a Wisconsin taxpayers organization represented by a conservative legal group.
The Brown County Taxpayers Association had made an emergency request to put on hold the debt forgiveness plan, which was announced in August and meant for people who had taken out loans to pay for college. Barrett denied the request without explanation.
A lower court had dismissed the group’s lawsuit, saying it lacked the necessary legal standing to bring the case because it could not show that it was personally harmed by the loan relief.
Barrett, designated by the Supreme Court to act on emergency matters arising from a group of states including Wisconsin, did not ask Biden’s administration for a response to the group’s request.
The plaintiffs in the case were represented by the Wisconsin Institute for Law & Liberty, a conservative legal group.
In a policy benefiting millions of Americans, Biden announced that the U.S. government would forgive up to $10,000 in student loan debt for borrowers making less than $125,000 a year, or $250,000 for married couples. Students who received Pell Grants to benefit lower-income college students will have up to $20,000 of their debt canceled.
The policy fulfilled a promise that Biden made during the 2020 presidential campaign to help debt-saddled former college students. The Congressional Budget Office in September calculated that the debt forgiveness would cost the government about $400 billion.
Democrats are hoping the policy will boost support for them in the November 8 midterm elections, in which control of Congress is at stake, even as many Republicans criticize the plan.
Top Senate Republican Mitch McConnell called the debt forgiveness “socialism” that would worsen inflation, reward “far-left activists” and deliver a “slap in the face” to Americans who paid back their student loans or picked career paths including serving in the military to avoid taking on debt.
The lawsuit is one of several legal challenges contesting Biden’s authority to cancel the debt under a 2003 law called the Higher Education Relief Opportunities for Students Act, which lets the government modify or waive federal student loans during war or national emergency. Biden’s administration asserts that the COVID-19 pandemic represented such an emergency.
The Wisconsin plaintiffs appealed to the Supreme Court, undeterred after rapid losses in lower courts. The group filed suit on October 4, arguing that the policy “obligates federal taxes and erases federal assets (in the form of debt) without any authority whatsoever.”
U.S. District Judge William Griesbach in Green Bay threw out the case two days later, noting that merely paying taxes is not enough to challenge federal actions. The Chicago-based 7th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals subsequently refused the group’s request to block the debt relief program pending an appeal.
Among other legal challenges brought to Biden’s plan was one by six Republican-led states — Nebraska, Missouri, Iowa, South Carolina, Kansas and Arkansas.