BY: MICHAEL STRATFORD | 12/02/2022 05:39 PM EST
The Biden administration is asking the Supreme Court to intervene in a second major legal challenge to its student debt relief program and potentially hear it alongside the case the justices already agreed to hear in February or March.
The Justice Department on Friday urged the court to immediately pause a lower court ruling that struck down President Joe Biden’s debt relief program as illegal or, alternatively, take up the two cases at the same time.
On Thursday, the court agreed to hear arguments about the legality of Biden’s student debt relief policy in a case brought by six Republican-led states. In a one-page order, the court said it would fast-track that case for arguments during its February 2023 sitting, which stretches into the first day of March. The order leaves the student debt relief plan frozen in the meantime.
The second case now pending before the Supreme Court involves a lawsuit brought by the conservative Job Creators Network Foundation on behalf of two borrowers who were partially or full excluded from Biden’s debt relief plan.
A federal judge in Texas sided with the conservative group and voided the debt relief program. A panel of the 5th Circuit Court of Appeals earlier this week declined to pause that ruling, rebuffing the Biden administration’s effort to reinstate debt relief.
Hearing the two cases together at the same time, the DOJ wrote in its filing on Friday, “would allow the Court to consider the full range of challenges to the plan at once.”
Both lawsuits are similar in that they argue the administration’s policy is illegal and exceeds the authority given to the Education Department by Congress. The Biden administration argues that a 2003 law granting special power to the agency during national emergencies allows it to cancel large swaths of student debt to help borrowers respond to the economic devastation of the Covid-19 pandemic.
But the issue of standing is different in each lawsuit. The Republican states argue they can bring the case because student debt relief will lower state tax revenues and other streams of funding related to state-related entities that own or manage federal student loans. The two student loan borrowers, meanwhile, argue in their lawsuit that they are injured because they were deprived of the opportunity to submit public comment on Biden’s plan before it was finalized.
DOJ acknowledged that having the Supreme Court take up the merits of both cases before lower courts have decided them is an “extraordinary remedy” but said the issue was so important that it warrants a departure from the normal process.
Josh Gerstein contributed to this report.