Wiping out $400 Billion in Student Debt Rests in Supreme Court's Hands

President Joe Biden faces a formidable obstacle in his bid to slash the student debt of more than 40 million people: a US Supreme Court that has repeatedly thwarted his agenda.

The administration will defend the plan Tuesday before a court that has already stopped Biden from blocking evictions during the pandemic and requiring workers to get Covid vaccines or regular tests. The justices also have slashed the Environmental Protection Agency’s power to address climate change.

Those rulings, all decided 6-3 along ideological lines, will be key precedents as the court considers Republican contentions that Biden is once again overstepping his authority. The three cases also foreshadow the skepticism the administration is likely to encounter as it argues for a potentially $400 billion program that Biden introduced only after failing to persuade Congress to act.

“I expect this to be overturned,” said Ben Barton, a law professor at the University of Tennessee. He said the main question will be “how muscular they are in making the decision.”

Student Borrowers Face Crisis as Top Court Weighs Biden Relief

The trio of recent cases enshrined what had previously been a loosely defined legal concept known as the “major-questions doctrine.” The court’s six conservative justices said the executive branch needs clear congressional authorization before taking actions that have sweeping political and economic significance.

“A decision of such magnitude and consequence rests with Congress itself, or an agency acting pursuant to a clear delegation from that representative body,” Chief Justice John Roberts wrote in the climate-change ruling, which pre-emptively limited the power of Biden’s EPA to curb power-plant emissions. Roberts said the major-questions doctrine was driven by both “separation of powers principles and a practical understanding of legislative intent.”