While some cheered the Biden administration's plan to erase up to $20,000 of student loan debt per person, others questioned whether the president had such sweeping authority. That question may soon be answered now that a lawsuit has been filed in federal court.
The lawsuit is being brought against the U.S. Education Department (ED) by the Pacific Legal Foundation (PLF), a non-profit organization claiming to defend "Americans' liberties when threatened by government overreach and abuse."
As a plaintiff, PLF has listed one of its own attorneys, Frank Garrison.
"Congress did not authorize the executive branch to unilaterally cancel student debt," said Caleb Kruckenberg, another attorney at PLF. "It's flagrantly illegal for the executive branch to create a $500 billion program by press release, and without statutory authority or even the basic notice and comment procedure for new regulations."
The complaint alleges the Higher Education Relief Opportunities for Students (HEROES) Act, which was the justification for the $500 billion write-off, does not allow for loan forgiveness as defined by the administration.
The HEROES Act authorizes the Secretary of Education to "waive or modify any statutory or regulatory provision applicable" to student aid programs when "necessary in connection with a war or other military operation or national emergency."
"To qualify for such a waiver or modification, individuals must reside or be employed in a 'disaster area' as declared by a 'Federal, State, or local official in connection with a national emergency,'" the complaint reads. "Concluding that the entire nation is a 'disaster area' because of the COVID pandemic, the administration claims that the Secretary of Education has the power to 'automatically' issue blanket loan forgiveness to 8 million borrowers in the first week of October."
The crux of the complaint states that the ED did not undertake the notice-and-comment process required for rulemaking or solicit any public input.
"Nothing about loan cancellation is lawful or appropriate," the complaint continues. "In an end-run around Congress, the administration threatens to enact a profound and transformational policy that will have untold economic impacts. The administration's lawless action should be stopped immediately."
According to Matt Clark, a constitutional attorney with the Alabama Center for Law and Liberty, the PLF has its work cut out for it in proving damages from the ED.
"A lot of us who are working for conservative legal organizations believe that we can win on the merits, meaning we can successfully argue that the Biden administration is exceeding its authority," Clark said. "The problem is finding a plaintiff who's willing to sue. In addition to being able to tell the court how the plaintiff is being harmed, that plaintiff will have to take the heat of the masses as they're mad at him for trying to cancel loan forgiveness. In this case, the Pacific Legal Foundation found a solution by having one of their own attorneys be the plaintiff. He likely has the fortitude to take the heat, and the forgiveness of his loans will lead to a rise in his state income taxes."
"So, in plain English, the hardest part of this suit is finding an injured party who is willing to sue. But once you have that, the rest is a lot easier. I think there's a very good chance that PLF's challenge succeeds."
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