The US Supreme Court Tuesday heard oral arguments in Biden v. Nebraska and Department of Education v. Brown, two cases that will determine the future of the Biden administration’s student loan debt forgiveness program. The plaintiffs in both cases allege that President Joe Biden’s program–a key 2020 campaign promise by the president–is a broad overreach of executive authority that flies in the face of congressional intent.
The court heard oral arguments for both cases, back-to-back. During arguments, the justices focused on two questions at the heart of both cases. The first question is whether the plaintiffs bringing the suit have standing before the court. The second question is whether the program is constitutional on its merits.
Standing asks whether the party who filed the suit is the proper party to appear before the court. The issue of standing, while more of a theoretical dispute than the legal merits of Biden’s student-loan forgiveness program, could be the focus of the court’s decision. Solicitor General Elizabeth Prelogar, arguing on behalf of the US, closed her oral argument in Biden v. Nebraska today with the statement, “The problem here is the states aren’t the proper plaintiff to bring this suit.” During oral argument for Department of Education v. Brown, Prelogar equally dismissed the standing of the plaintiffs in that suit. She said, “Parties cannot go to Court to make themselves and everyone else worse off.”
The legal merits of the cases turn on the separation of powers between branches of government. In Biden v. Nebraska, James Campbell, arguing on behalf of several states, claimed, “The Secretary is attempting to bypass Congress on one of today’s most debated policy questions, student loan forgiveness. After many failed legislative efforts . . . no [congressional] statute authorizes this sweeping action.” In Department of Education v. Brown, J. Michael Connolly, arguing on behalf of a borrower challenging the program named Myra Brown, asserted, “Congress did not authorize the Secretary [of Education] to create a $400 billion debt forgiveness program behind closed doors with no public involvement.”
A federal court froze the Biden administration’s student loan forgiveness program in November 2022. However, the Biden administration extended its pause on student loan repayments through June of this year.