The Supreme Court Just Made Millions of Americans $10,000 Poorer

On Friday, the ultra-conservative Supreme Court voted 6-3 to strike down the Biden administration’s student loan forgiveness program.

The Supreme Court Just Made Millions of Americans $10,000 Poorer
Photo:Al Drago/Bloomberg (Getty Images)

On Friday, the ultra-conservative Supreme Court voted 6-3 to strike down the Biden administration’s student loan forgiveness program. The majority in Biden v. Nebraska was led by Chief Justice John Roberts, with Justice Amy Coney Barrett filing a concurring opinion. Student loan forgiveness is dead and Roberts was pretty succinct in his opinion: “Six States sued, arguing that the HEROES Act does not authorize the loan cancellation plan. We agree.”

While explaining why one (only one!) of the four arguments these six states put forward was convincing, Roberts also criticized court reformers, who correctly recognize that the general public is suffering due to the right-wing’s forcible enacting of its values on the rest of the country.It has become a disturbing feature of some recent opinions to criticize the decisions with which they disagree as going beyond the proper role of the judiciary,” Roberts wrote. “We have employed the traditional tools of judicial decisionmaking in doing so.” But, he added, “Reasonable minds may disagree with our analysis—in fact, at least three do.”

One of those three, Justice Elena Kagan, wrote the dissent, and countered Roberts, arguing that the court’s conservative wing is engaged in judicial activism. “The result here is that the Court substitutes itself for Congress and the Executive Branch in making national policy about student-loan forgiveness,” Kagan wrote. “Congress authorized the forgiveness plan (among many other actions); the Secretary put it in place; and the President would have been accountable for its success or failure. But this Court today decides that some 40 million Americans will not receive the benefits the plan provides, because (so says the Court) that assistance is too ‘significan[t].’”

The second lawsuit, Department of Education v. Brown, was ruled as lacking standing and the judgment is vacated.

The Biden Administration’s plan would have eliminated $10,000 of student debt for people who earn up to $125,000 each year, or $250,000 for a married household. People who received Pell Grants, they could have seen another $10,000 forgiven.

The conservative decision is out of step with the majority of Americans, according to recent polling. Sixty-one percent of likely voters surveyed in late May and early June supported the plan that would have provided up to $20,000 in relief for low-income borrowers. The polling from Data for Progress and the Student Borrower Protection Center found only one group actually has net disapproval: Republicans over 45.

The idea that conservatives are making a neutral decision—with “traditional tools of judicial decisionmaking” as Roberts put it—is laughable. Justice Alito’s luxury fishing trip sponsor, the billionaire Paul Singer, is the chairman of a conservative think tank that filed an amicus brief in the case. From ProPublica:

In the last decade, Singer has contributed over $80 million to Republican political groups. He has also given millions to the Manhattan Institute, a conservative think tank where he has served as chairman since 2008. The institute regularly files friend-of-the-court briefs with the Supreme Court—at least 15 this term, including one asking the court to block student loan relief.

Justice Clarence Thomas himself had crippling student loan debt in his 30s and 40s, and billionaire Harlan Crow paid two years of private school tuition for Thomas’ grand-nephew, of whom Thomas was the legal guardian.

Court reformers immediately called for court expansion after the decision was released. “When these nine justices were in school, tuition cost a fraction of what students are asked to pay at those same elite institutions today. And yet they want to be the final authority on whether millions of student borrowers get the relief they desperately need? It would be funny if it weren’t so cruel,” Take Back the Court President Sarah Lipton-Lubet said in a statement. “There’s only one way we’ll get a Supreme Court that reflects and respects the experiences of hard working Americans: by adding four new justices.”

The Biden administration—which will announce further actions on student loans on Friday afternoon—had previously said it would require people to resume their student payments starting in October, regardless of the Supreme Court rulings. For millions of Americans, that amount would have been significantly reduced, though—if the conservative justices weren’t so intent on making life as difficult as possible.

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