Image 01 Image 03

Supreme Court Strikes Down Biden’s Student-Loan Forgiveness Plan

Supreme Court Strikes Down Biden’s Student-Loan Forgiveness Plan

Roberts for 6–3 majority: “The text of the HEROES Act does not authorize the Secretary’s loan forgiveness program. The Secretary’s power under the Act to ‘modify’ does not permit ‘basic and fundamental changes in the scheme’ designed by Congress.”

The Supreme Court today resolved two challenges to the Biden administration’s student-loan forgiveness planNebraska v. Biden and Department of Education v. Brown. In Nebraska and Brown, six states and two student-loan borrowers (respondents), respectively, challenged a plan to discharge student-loan debts by President Joe Biden, Secretary of Education Miguel Cardona, and the U.S. Department of Education.

Cardona announced on August 24, 2022, a plan to use the HEROES Act as the basis for executive action to discharge up to $20,000 in student-loan debt for qualifying borrowers.

In both cases, the Court was called on to decide whether the states and borrowers had standing to sue. In Nebraska, the Court needed to determine “whether the plan exceeds the Secretary’s statutory authority or is arbitrary and capricious.” In Brown, the Court needed to determine “whether the department’s plan is statutorily authorized and was adopted in a procedurally proper manner.”

In Nebraska, the Court held 6–3 “[a]t least Missouri has standing.” The Chief Justice wrote the opinion of the Court, which Justices Thomas, Alito, Gorsuch, Kavanaugh, and Barrett joined. Barrett wrote a concurring opinion. Justice Kagan wrote a dissenting opinion, which Justices Sotomayor and Jackson joined.

Finding standing, the Court addressed the merits of the challenge to the plan. The Court accepted Cardona’s authority “to ‘waive or modify’ existing statutory or regulatory provisions” for student loans under the HEROES Act but rejected the argument that this authority extended to “canceling $430 billion of student loan principal”:

The text of the HEROES Act does not authorize the Secretary’s loan forgiveness program. The Secretary’s power under the Act to “modify” does not permit “basic and fundamental changes in the scheme” designed by Congress. Instead, “modify” carries “a connotation of increment or limitation,” and must be read to mean “to change moderately or in minor fashion.” That is how the word is ordinarily used and defined, and the legal definition is no different. (citations omitted)

In Brown, the Court, in an opinion by Alito, unanimously held the borrows lacked standing to challenge plan “[b]ecause respondents fail to establish that any injury they suffer from not having their loans forgiven is fairly traceable to the Plan.”

The HEROES Act, enacted shortly after the attacks of September 11, 2001, empowers the Secretary of Education to forgive student-loan debt for individuals on active duty during a time of war, residing in an area subject to a disaster declaration, or “suffer[ing] direct economic hardship as a direct result of a war or other military operation or national emergency.”

The Nebraska respondents argued the plan deprived them of substantial revenue and violated the separation of powers and the Administrative Procedures Act and that Cardona’s implementation of the plan was arbitrary and capricious. The Brown respondents were ineligible under the plan and argued the Department of Education failed to follow proper procedures under the Administrative Procedures Act in crafting the plan


Cardona exceeded his authority to ‘waive or modify’ terms of the loan program

On the merits in Nebraska, the Court held forgiveness of “$430 billion in debt principal” was beyond a reasonable interpretation of a provision of the HEROES Act allowing the Secretary of Education to “waive or modify” the terms of the federal student loan program.

The Court noted “modify,” as used in common and legal parlance, means “to make minor changes in the form or structure of [or] alter without transforming.”

The Court then looked to previous modifications of the Education Act before the COVID-19 pandemic, “most of which were procedural”:

Examples include reducing the number of tax forms borrowers are required to file, extending time periods in which borrowers must take certain actions, and allowing oral rather than written authorizations.

The plan at issue “purported to ‘modif[y] the provisions of ‘ two statutory sections and three related regulations governing student loans.” These provisions allowed Cardona to “discharge [a] borrower’s liability” in limited circumstances, such as the borrower’s death or disability or the closure of the borrower’s school before the completion of the borrower’s degree program.

In light of the meaning of “modify” and past modifications, the Court rejected Cardona’s changes to these provisions as neither “moderate” nor “minor”:

Instead, they created a novel and fundamentally different loan forgiveness program. The new program vests authority in the Department of Education to discharge up to $10,000 for every borrower with income below $125,000 and up to $20,000 for every such borrower who has received a Pell Grant.

Whereas the provisions for discharging student loan debt were once “a few narrowly delineated situations specified by Congress, the Secretary ha[d] expanded forgiveness to nearly every borrower in the country.”

Cardona’s changes to the Education Act from its “narrowly delineated” reasons for loan discharge proved too much for the Court to accept under the “modifications”:

The Secretary’s plan has “modified” the cited provisions only in the same sense that “the French Revolution ‘modified’ the status of the French nobility”—it has abolished them and supplanted them with a new regime entirely.

The Court then considered Cardona’s authority to “waive” provisions of the Education Act. Cardona contended that the authority to waive conferred “broader authority” than that conferred by the authority to modify.

The Court first looked to past instances of waiver under the HEROES Act, which it found scarcely resembled the plan at issue:

Previously, waiver under the HEROES Act was straightforward: the Secretary identified a particular legal requirement and waived it, making compliance no longer necessary. For instance, on one occasion the Secretary waived the requirement that a student provide a written request for a leave of absence. On another, he waived the regulatory provisions requiring schools and guaranty agencies to attempt collection of defaulted loans for the time period in which students were affected individuals. (citations omitted)

The Court found this purported waiver deficient because, unlike previous waivers, this purported waiver did not identify a specific legal requirement waived.

The Court continued that even if it accepted a vaguer form of waiver, Cardona’s purported use here did not comport with the concept of a waiver as “relax[ing] existing legal requirements” because this purported waiver added terms that “specif[y] particular sums to be forgiven and income-based eligibility requirements. ”

The Court then considered and rejected Cardona’s argument that “the power to ‘waive or modify’ is greater than the sum of its parts”:

The Secretary has not truly waived or modified the provisions in the Education Act authorizing specific and limited forgiveness of student loans. Those provisions remain safely intact in the U. S. Code, where they continue to operate in full force. What the Secretary has actually done is draft a new section of the Education Act from scratch by ‘waiving’ provisions root and branch and then filling the empty space with radically new text.


Dissent: the states lack standing because they suffered no injury

The dissent argued the states lacked standing to sue because they “have no personal stake in the Secretary’s loan forgiveness plan. They are classic ideological plaintiffs: They think the plan a very bad idea, but they are no worse off because the Secretary differs.”

The dissent continues that the asserted injury to Missouri, for example, was actually an injury to “a legally and financially independent public corporation” separate from the state despite being “a state-created corporation participating in the student-loan market.”

Dissent: the majority erred in finding Cardona exceeded his ‘waive or modify’ authority

The dissent also challenged the majority’s finding that Cardona acted beyond the scope of his authority under the HEROES Act to “waive or modify” the Education Act:

The statute Congress enacted gives the Secretary broad authority to respond to national emergencies. That authority kicks in only under exceptional conditions. But when it kicks in, the Secretary can take exceptional measures. He can ‘waive or modify any statutory or regulatory provision’ applying to the student-loan program.

The Chief Justice’s opinion agreed that Cardona has the authority to “waive or modify” provisions of the Education Act but challenged the dissent’s view of the scope of this authority:

The Secretary’s comprehensive debt cancellation plan cannot fairly be called a waiver—it not only nullifies existing provisions, but augments and expands them dramatically. It cannot be mere modification, because it constitutes “effectively the introduction of a whole new regime.” And it cannot be some combination of the two, because when the Secretary seeks to add to existing law, the fact that he has “waived” certain provisions does not give him a free pass to avoid the limits inherent in the power to “modify.” However broad the meaning of “waive or modify,” that language cannot authorize the kind of exhaustive rewriting of the statute that has taken place here.

Nebraska v. Biden opinion:

Department of Education v. Brown opinion:


Donations tax deductible
to the full extent allowed by law.


It is interesting. Few sites actually concentrate on the ruling. Most sites report on how activists perceive the ruling. Liberal sites are putting up pre-written articles condemning the SCOTUS for being unfair for stealing free money from the borrowers.

Does anyone have any numbers on the times the Democrat Justices have ruled against a Democrat position for anything?

The sure do seem awfully dependable to vote the right way, all the time.

    CommoChief in reply to mailman. | June 30, 2023 at 11:07 am

    Kagan occasionally votes with the more conservative Justices. Usually on relatively narrow questions not on sweeping rulings.

Morning Sunshine | June 30, 2023 at 11:06 am

I find it interesting that Roberts has stopped joining the Dem-appointed justices.

I am starting to think he just likes to be on the winning side. can we redo Obama care? /sarcasm

    E Howard Hunt in reply to Morning Sunshine. | June 30, 2023 at 2:33 pm

    Have you seen that cake slice photo? I think the justice has something to hide.

    Dathurtz in reply to Morning Sunshine. | June 30, 2023 at 4:08 pm

    I think he simply wants rulings to be considered legitimate and thinks a 6-3 will be seen as more legitimate than a 5-4.

    artichoke in reply to Morning Sunshine. | June 30, 2023 at 5:21 pm

    His pattern seems to be that if a ruling is 4-4 without him and he’s the swing vote, he goes left.

    But if it’s 5-3 or more lopsided without him and his vote doesn’t matter, he goes right.

    That way he can claim a balanced voting record, while voting left whenever the main outcome depends on his vote.

    I imagine when the dementia patient posing as president started attacking the court and riling up his base to go after them, Robert’s realized there was no benefit to pandering to the left.

ABSOLUTELY EXCELLENT! Even the damned leftists cannot argue against this!

Those students CHOSE to saddle themselves with this debt to reach a degree, whether or not marketable, and SCOTUS apparently told the executive branch that your mistakes are your political costs.

I wish Clarence Thomas extreme long life. His reasoning was so spot on, that no one can humanly (well, leftists aren’t human, so scratch that, sorry….) reason that any debt entered into cannot be dismissed by executive fiat.

Thank you, Clarence Thomas. You are, sir, THE ultimate SCOTUS justice.

Wow, the dumb old election stealing, grifting, pedophile retard sure did get bitch-slapped, and good.

Where is this respect for statutory limits when the underlying matter concerns the climate fraud or when some supreme clown decides to amend the Civil Rights Act by adding “sexual orientation” and “gender identity” as a protected categories?

    CommoChief in reply to Concise. | June 30, 2023 at 4:41 pm

    Last term in WV v EPA the CT slapped down the EPA for exceeding its authority in trying to develop and impose (make up) rules about ‘greenhouse gasses’ aka CO2, as a lever to expand its authority to regulate emissions. Pretty broad ruling as well in essence telling the Executive Agencies that they are not free to go beyond what authority Congress has clearly delegated to them.

    This term the CT in EPA v Sackett again slapped the EPA and Corps of EN but over the Clean Water Act and the authority to regulate navigable waters. The CT clarified the definition of ‘waters of the US’ as contiguous surface waters and not every hole where rain or runoff accumulates. This precludes the govt from attempting to regulate wetlands/ bogs or intermittent streams/creeks unconnected to actual navigable waters.

      Concise in reply to CommoChief. | June 30, 2023 at 8:20 pm

      Massachusetts v. EPA. And couldn’t help but notice the no comment on the mess they’ve made of the Civil Rights Act. Also maybe should mention Moore v. Harper, not a matter of statutory interpretation, but a massive error in interpretation nonetheless.

        CommoChief in reply to Concise. | June 30, 2023 at 10:04 pm

        You should go search past articles for my rant on the redistricting decisions debacle. The logic is the same as the AA cases; don’t use race as a proxy or group identity as a determining factor. Yet in the redistricting cases the CT ignored their logic in the Harvard/NC cases to effectively require addition ‘majority minority’ CD. The inconsistency drives me bat crap.

        Bottom line here for me is the gate is swinging back in our direction. Not as far as we want and certainly not as quickly as we would like but it going in the correct direction.

        I prefer to be optimistic rather than pessimistic when presented with partial victories. It could have been worse but instead it was a far better term than many thought it might be.

    Dathurtz in reply to Concise. | June 30, 2023 at 4:54 pm

    You’ll get wins on some social stuff like this, but you won’t get wins on the big stuff that drives our country.

      artichoke in reply to Dathurtz. | June 30, 2023 at 5:23 pm

      We just had an end ordered to racial affirmative action at colleges. That will do a lot to heal society after a period of complaining, or it will lead to a big fight that we need to have.

      If that’s not big, what is?

        Dathurtz in reply to artichoke. | June 30, 2023 at 7:11 pm

        You really think that’s gonna make a big difference in what universities do? You genuinely think that decision will bring racial healing. Maybe I am too pessimistic, but I expect neither.

        Concise in reply to artichoke. | June 30, 2023 at 8:43 pm

        If that ruling ends affirmative action at colleges, I’ll eat this comment section.

          CommoChief in reply to Concise. | July 1, 2023 at 12:01 pm

          If you mean by itself then you are correct. Univ will attempt to find a workaround. This ruling will be used as the basis to rule against the univ in future litigation over their impermissible attempts to insert race in decision making via the backdoor.

I forgive you, but you still have to pay back what you owe.

SeymourButz | June 30, 2023 at 1:18 pm

It was silly to believe that the man who helped this crisis materialize would suddenly be the one to fix it.

Not to be outdone, Joe Biden says students having trouble repaying their loans qualify for free painting lessons from Hunter. “They’ll be able to pay them off in no time,” he says.

Good, another slap-down for the pedophile

There is a similar economic storm brewing over COVID unemployment benefits.

In Washington State alone- they estimate about a billion was paid out (not counting fraud) to people they are now asking to pay back. For a lot of the recipients this is not a trivial number- like 50k.

There are federal rules in place which prevent the governor from forgiving or waiving the “debt.” Jay Inslee is all about free money and grifting- so I doubt dems are crazy about having to go be debt collectors going into the 2024 election (not like they’d actually lose in Wa)- however this has ramifications that are big economically.

Media is barely reporting on it in Washington- and I’m betting this is the case in other states as well. Hint hint- California

Economically- when you take a BILLION dollars out of the hands of people who have no savings, this is not good thing for a local economy.

I don’t think congress (which has states which chose to not milk this cow for 2 years longer than they needed to) will be eager to give Inslee a pass on forgiving the loans too. I’m a neophyte on the federal strings attached to the money, but apparently it’s rather rigid even in terms of contesting the ruling of “overpayment” is structured so tightly its like they are accusing you of fraud for even asking.

I say this because our household had about 200 bucks that was in question and I went at them like a pitbull because they changed the rules after the fact and told us to pay back one of the payments. When I say pitbull- I mean one step short of Cindy Sheehan- out of principle.

ChrisPeters | June 30, 2023 at 3:31 pm

The issue of student debt should be a simple one: Pay your own damn bills!

BierceAmbrose | July 1, 2023 at 9:33 pm

So, The Supremes installed by The Screaming-D’s voted again supporting some admini-drone overlord grabbing more authoritah. Just doing the job they’re there for.

BierceAmbrose | July 1, 2023 at 9:38 pm

It gets clearer when you think of The Apparatus as a system installed to do something. So

— “Modify” changes how you operate to get the same outcomes.

— To change the outcome, including scope, the term is “Replace.”

— To illustrate, swapping the engine *modifies* a car, but *replaces* the engine.

A law about some relief for fighters and casualties in a particular semi-delcared war, getting stretched to everydamnbody with a loan when the finance system crashes, would be “replace.”