Student Loan Forgiveness Lawsuits: What to Know About the Legal Challenges | #Education

This story is published as part of Teen Vogue’s 2022 Economic Security Project fellowship.

Well, that was fast. Within weeks of President Biden announcing federal student debt relief, lawsuits started rolling in to block the plan. For as long as activists and advocates have been pushing the Biden administration to cancel federal student loan debt, experts have been debating the achievability and legal viability of different strategies — whether Congress could or would pass legislation and whether the president could or should use his executive powers to grant relief. The one thing that the majority of them agreed on? If Biden bypassed Congress to pass student debt cancellation, lawsuits would undoubtedly follow.

So far, the suits are mostly giving post-2020-election-Trump-lawsuit-frenzy, legal-free-for-all vibes. None of the experts and advocates Teen Vogue spoke to for this article expressed any serious concern over those lawsuits. “Most of the cases, I would say, are frankly just frivolous,” says Persis Yu, deputy executive director and managing counsel of the Student Borrower Protection Center. The Debt Collective’s legal strategist, Sparky Abraham, said the most viable lawsuit was “the closest to not being a joke.”

Still, on Friday, October 22, less than a week after the application portal went live, a federal appeals court temporarily blocked the program, preventing loans from being canceled until the court reviews one of the legal challenges. The Biden administration is urging people to continue submitting applications, noting that 22 million Americans have already done so.

Teen Vogue spoke with experts and advocates to help make sense of the legal challenges.

How Biden used the HEROES Act for debt cancellation

“The main issue here,” says Chris Geidner, contributing editor for Grid News and editor and author of the legal newsletter, Law Dork, “is how much power the president and executive agencies have to take action that isn’t specifically, explicitly laid out in laws passed by Congress?”

The Biden White House has decided that the answer to that question is best supported by the Higher Education Relief Opportunities for Students Act (HEROES Act), a George W. Bush-era law that allows the secretary of education to, in Bush’s words, “waive or modify federal student aid requirements to help students and their families” impacted by national emergencies. Because the COVID-19 pandemic has been declared a national emergency, the administration argues that this piece of legislation grants it those special powers.

“The Biden administration’s response is, well, even Betsy DeVos thought that the HEROES Act gave her enough authority to pause all student loan repayment,” says Geidner. “So where were your challenges to that? [Biden] looked at what has been done over the past three years since DeVos started the pause and looked at what would happen to the borrowers if you restarted payments. A lot of them would default because they are still dealing with the fallout from the pandemic. So the federal government’s response is, no, this is exactly what the HEROES Act was about.”

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