Nov. 11 (UPI) — A federal judge in Texas has struck down President Joe Biden’s student debt relief plan to forgive up to $20,000 in federal loans held by tens of millions of borrowers, calling it unconstitutional.
Judge Mark Pittman of the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Texas issued his 26-page ruling Thursday that said the program was “an unconstitutional exercise of Congress’ legislative power and must be vacated.”
“In this country, we are not ruled by an all-powerful executive with a pen and a phone,” the appointee of former President Donald Trump said.
The ruling comes in a lawsuit filed Oct. 10 by the Job Creators Network on behalf of Myra Brown and Alexander Taylor who hold tens of thousands of dollars in student loans but are ineligible for Biden’s program.
The lawsuit accuses the Biden administration of illegally using a law passed after the 9/11 terrorist attacks to offer service members financial assistance in order to erase student debt amid the COVID-19 emergency without having it approved by Congress.
Pittman on Thursday ruled in favor of the plaintiffs, stating the Higher Education Relief Opportunities for Students Act of 2003, better known as the HEROES Act, “does not provide ‘clear congressional authorization’ for the program.”
Elaine Parker, president of the conservative advocacy group, cheered the court’s decision.
“This ruling protects the rule of law, which requires all Americans to have their voices heard by their federal government,” Parker said in a statement. “We hope that the court’s decision today will lay the groundwork for real solutions to the student loan crisis.”
The debt relief plan has been temporarily blocked since last month when an appeals court granted six GOP-led states injunctive relief as their governors sued the federal government on the grounds that it was an abuse of executive powers.
The Biden administration has argued that the HEROES Act does authorize the Education secretary to waive or modify any statutory or regulatory provision applicable to the federal student loan program, with the Justice Department stating one of the law’s objectives is to ensure federal loan borrowers are not placed in a worse financial position due to a national emergency.
In a statement Thursday night, the Biden administration said they “strongly disagree” with the ruling and the Department of Justice has filed an appeal.
“The president and this administration are determined to help working and middle-class Americans get back on their feet, while our opponents — backed by extreme Republican special interests — sued to block millions of Americans from getting much-needed relief,” White House press secretary Karine Jean-Pierre said.
“We will never stop fighting for hardworking Americans most in need — no matter how many roadblocks our opponents and special interests try to put in our way.”
Student loan repayments, interests and collections have been paused since March of 2020, and Biden extended the move until the end of this year in late August as he announced his plan to cancel up to $20,000 of debt issued to Pell Grant recipients and up to $10,000 issued to federal borrowers who earn less than $125,000 a year individually or $250,000 per household.
The administration said it expects some 40 million federal student loan borrowers to benefit from the initiative, with the Congressional Budget Office estimating it will cost the United States about $400 billion over the next three decades.
The move was swiftly met with support from Democrats and advocates but condemned by conservatives and Republicans, with 22 GOP governors writing the president in September that they oppose the plan as it would “force American taxpayers to pay off the student loan debt of an elite few.”
Senate majority leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., chastised Pittman online Thursday night, calling him a “MAGA judge.” MAGA is an initialism of Trump’s political slogan “Make American Great Again.”
“But the law is on our side and we will keep fighting for the millions of Americans with student debt,” Schumer tweeted.
Education Secretary Miguel Cardona said Thursday night that applications from 16 million borrowers have already been approved and sent to loan services to be discharged when the courts allow. Another 26 million borrowers have provided the information needed to process their applications for relief, he said.
“We believe strongly that the Biden-Harris Student Debt Relief Plan is lawful and necessary to give borrowers and working families breathing room as they recover from the pandemic and to ensure they succeed when repayment restarts,” he said.