On Dec. 1, the Supreme Court agreed to fast-track a challenge, brought by six states, to the Biden administration’s student-loan debt relief program. On Monday, the justices agreed to take up another challenge to the program, this time filed by two student-loan borrowers. Both cases will be argued in late February or early March.
Biden announced the program in August. He relied on the Higher Education Relief Opportunities for Students Act of 2003 (known as the HEROES Act), a law passed in the wake of the Sept. 11 attacks that allows the federal government to make changes to student-loan programs to respond to national emergencies.
Six states, led by Nebraska, went to federal court in Missouri to challenge the program. U.S. District Judge Henry Autrey threw the case out, holding that the states do not have a legal right to sue, known as standing. But the states appealed to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 8th Circuit, which blocked the program. Although the Supreme Court on Dec. 1 declined to put the 8th Circuit’s ruling on hold while litigation continued, it agreed to take up the case without waiting for the court of appeals to weigh in.
U.S. Solicitor General Elizabeth Prelogar returned to the Supreme Court the next day, asking the justices to freeze a ruling by U.S. District Judge Mark Pittman of Texas in a challenge to the program brought by two student-loan borrowers, Myra Brown and Alexander Taylor. Brown, who was not eligible for relief under the Biden plan, and Taylor, who was eligible for partial relief on the plan, contend that if the Biden administration had followed proper procedures in adopting the plan, they would have had an opportunity to urge the government to enact a different and more expansive plan.
Pittman ruled that the HEROES Act did not give the government the power to adopt the plan, and the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 5th Circuit declined to put Pittman’s ruling on hold. That prompted Prelogar to ask the Supreme Court to block the ruling or fast-track the case for oral argument at the same time as Biden v. Nebraska.
In a brief order on Monday morning, the justices agreed to expedite the borrowers’ case, known as Department of Education v. Brown, along with Biden v. Nebraska. The debt-relief plan will remain on hold in the meantime. The court instructed the Biden administration and the borrowers to focus on two questions: whether Brown and Taylor have standing to sue, and whether the Biden administration followed federal law in adopting the plan.
This post is also published on SCOTUSblog.