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A Federal Judge Strikes Down Biden's Student Loan Forgiveness, the Right Move?

Student loan forgiveness is on the rocks, perhaps permanently if Republicans take the House.
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President Biden Speaks on Student Debt Relief

NPR reports A federal judge calls student loan relief unlawful, deepening limbo for borrowers

But let's get to the heart of the matters because most article discussing the ruling didn't.

Unquestionably, Biden's forgiveness was unconstitutional. He forgave $400 billion in student loans by executive power he did not have. 

The real question was finding someone with standing to sue. 

Let's dive into the 26-page Student Debt Cancellation Ruling starting with the strongly worded conclusion by District Judge Mark T. Pittman.

Conclusion (Emphasis Mine)

This case involves the question of whether Congress—through the HEROES Act—gave the Secretary authority to implement a Program that provides debt forgiveness to millions of student-loan borrowers, totaling over $400 billion.

In this country, we are not ruled by an all-powerful executive with a pen and a phone. Instead, we are ruled by a Constitution that provides for three distinct and independent branches of government. As President James Madison warned, “[t]he accumulation of all powers, legislative, executive, and judiciary, in the same hands, whether of one, a few, or many, and whether hereditary, self-appointed, or elective, may justly be pronounced the very definition of tyranny.”

THE FEDERALIST NO. 47. The Courtis not blind to the current political division in our country. But it is fundamental to the survival of our Republic that the separation of powers as outlined in our Constitution be preserved. And having interpreted the HEROES Act, the Court holds that it does not provide “clear congressional authorization” for the Program proposed by the Secretary.

Thus, Plaintiffs’ Motion for Summary Judgment (ECF No. 3) is GRANTED and Defendants’ Motion to Dismiss (ECF No. 25) is  DENIED And the Court DECLARES UNLAWFUL and VACATES the Program. SO ORDERED on this 10th day of November2022.

Mark T. Pittman
United States District Judge

Undoubtedly Correct Conclusion

The conclusion is undoubtedly correct. Even House Speaker Nancy Pelosi said Biden did not have the power to do this. It is not in the executive's power to discharge hundreds of billions of dollars. 

Biden's rationale was more than a bit flimsy. Despite having stated the pandemic was over, the alleged decision was under the Heroes Act dealing with the Covid pandemic.

Biden did not care. Of course, once Biden made the move Pelosi backed Biden. 

Standing to Challenge

The unfortunate setup is that no one can challenge clearly unconstitutional executive orders without standing. 

Someone has to prove they were harmed by Biden given away $400 billion. Taxpayers do not count. 

Standing Requirements 

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  • First, there must be a concrete injury in fact that is not conjectural or hypothetical.  
  • Second, there must be causation—a fairly traceable connection between a plaintiff’s injury and the complained-of conduct of the defendant.
  • Third, there must be redressability—a likelihood that the requested relief will redress the alleged injury.

The plaintiffs say they were harmed because they were exempted from even greater benefits. This is quite peculiar, if not downright bizarre. 

With that let's return Pittman's ruling, first noting the defendant in this case is the White House and the plaintiffs are individuals named Brown and Taylor. 

Plaintiffs Myra Brown and Alexander Taylor both have student loans. Brown is ineligible for any debt forgiveness under the Program because her loans are commercially held. And Taylor is ineligible for the full $20,000 in debt forgiveness under the Program because he did not receive a Pell Grant. Because Brown and Taylor, however, could not voice their disagreement because the Program did not undergo notice-and-comment rulemaking procedures under the Administrative Procedure Act (“APA”).

This case presents three issues. First, whether proceeding to the merits is appropriate. Second, whether the Court has jurisdiction. And third, whether Plaintiffs are entitled to relief. The Court addresses each in turn.  

Defendants seem to argue that no one has standing to challenge the Program because where the government is providing a benefit, nobody is harmed by the existence of that benefit. The Court must disagree. The Supreme Court has recognized that a plaintiff has standing to challenge a government benefit in many cases. 

Plaintiffs allege that their concrete injury is the deprivation of their procedural right under the APA to provide meaningful input on any proposal from the Department to forgive student-loan debt and their accompanying economic interest indebt forgiveness. 

Plaintiffs have a concrete interest in having their debts forgiven to a greater degree. Brown is ineligible for the Program because her loans are commercially held. And Taylor is ineligible for the full $20,000 in debt forgiveness under the Program because he did not receive a Pell Grant in college. Brown and Taylor’s inability to obtain the full benefit of debt forgiveness under the Program flows directly from the Program’s eligibility requirements.  

The first requirement of Article III standing is thus met.

Second, Plaintiffs argue that their injury is traceable to Defendants’ actions because Plaintiffs lost the chance to obtain more debt forgiveness, which flows directly from Defendants’ promulgation of the Program’s eligibility requirements that failed to undergo a notice-and-comment period. 

Defendants do not contest this argument. And the Court agrees with Plaintiffs.  

Third, Plaintiffs contend that there is at least some possibility that Defendants would reconsider the eligibility requirements of the Program if it were enjoined or vacated, which fulfills the lighter redressability requirement that applies when a procedural injury is alleged. The Court agrees.  

In response, Defendants argue that Plaintiffs’ alleged injury will not be redressed by a favorable decision of the Court because enjoining or vacating the Program will not provide Plaintiffs any loan forgiveness. But Defendants misread the redressability requirement in the context of procedural injuries. Plaintiffs need only prove that there is some possibility that Defendants will reconsider the confines of the Program if it is struck down in its current form.  

Because Plaintiffs satisfy all three Article III standing requirements, they may challenge Defendants’ conduct on the merits. As a result, the Court denies Defendants’ Motion to Dismiss for Lack of Jurisdiction. 

Justice Served

Justice was served but in a very peculiar way.

It seems this opens up the possibility Biden will try again with comment period then go for the full bang and dismiss over a trillion dollars in student debt. 

I find it absurd that a president could attempt this and get away with it unless someone other than taxpayers were harmed. 

There is still another angle. If someone collecting interest can persuade the court they were harmed by being paid in full rather than over time with interest, they would have standing. 

One should not have to jump through hoops to contest clearly unconstitutional giveaways, standing or not.

This post originated at MishTalk.Com.

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