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'Crushing Defeat' for DeVos as Federal Judge Rules She Illegally Delayed Relief for Students Defrauded by For-Profit Colleges

"This is a major victory for student borrowers and for anyone who cares about having a government that operates under the rule of law, instead of as a pawn of the for-profit college industry."

U.S. Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos

U.S. Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos spoke at the 2017 Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC) in National Harbor, Maryland. (Photo: Gage Skidmore/Flickr/cc)

A Washington, D.C. federal judge has delivered a "crushing defeat" of Education Secretary Betsy DeVos, ruling that the Trump-appointee illegally delayed Obama-era regulations to provide loan relief to students defrauded by for-profit colleges.

U.S. District Court Judge Randolph Moss, in a 57-page ruling (pdf) issued Wednesday, sided with consumer advocates and a coalition of 19 Democratic states attorneys general, determining that DeVos's actions to delay the borrower defense rule were "unlawful," "procedurally invalid," and "arbitrary and capricious."

In terms of DeVos's broader and deeply unpopular agenda for the Education Department, Politico characterized the decision as "the most significant legal setback to date for DeVos's efforts to dismantle the Obama administration's higher education policies."

"This is a major victory for student borrowers and for anyone who cares about having a government that operates under the rule of law, instead of as a pawn of the for-profit college industry," said Toby Merrill, director of Project on Predatory Student Lending, which partnered with Public Citizen and the states attorneys general to file suit on behalf of two former students at the for-profit New England Institute of Art (NEIA) in Brookline, Massachusetts. 

Massachusetts Attorney General Maura Healey—who led the coalition of state attorneys general for the lawsuit—responding in a series of tweets, called the ruling "a total rejection of President [Donald] Trump and Betsy DeVos's agenda to cheat students and taxpayers."

"For years we've fought for needed protections for student borrowers. No matter what this administration throws at us, we will continue to stand up for students and families in Massachusetts," Healey added. "It is time for the to go into effect and give thousands of students the relief they've been waiting for."

Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.)—who has spoken out against DeVos's attempts to delay the Obama-era rule and replace it with a policy that would "devastate students cheated by sham for-profit colleges"—celebrated the judge's decision on Twitter:

DeVos, in July, had unveiled her proposed re-write of the rule—which was immediately rejected by Healey, Warren, and consumer advocates. Public Citizen attorney Julie Murray, as Common Dreams reported, warned the proposal "would help predatory schools evade liability while cutting off federal loan relief to students who can ill afford it" and send a message to "predatory schools that crime pays."

While Judge Moss's Wednesday ruling did not include any directives for how the Education Department should proceed, all parties to the lawsuit are expected to return to the Washington, D.C. courthouse at 10:30am local time on Friday "to present oral argument regarding the appropriate remedies."

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