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Joe Biden announcing student loan debt relief portal

U.S. President Joe Biden delivers remarks on the student debt relief portal beta test in Washington, D.C., on October 17, 2022. (Photo: Brendan Smialowski/AFP via Getty Images)

Biden Admin Halts Student Debt Relief Applications After Right-Wing Judge's Ruling

"We are not standing down," U.S. Education Secretary Miguel Cardona vowed—but for now, the department's student debt relief web portal is blocked.

Brett Wilkins

The Biden administration stopped accepting applications for its popular student loan forgiveness plan on Friday, a day after a Trump-appointed federal judge blocked the program on what critics are calling dubious legal grounds.

"Republicans don't want you to get debt relief and want their judges to do their unpopular dirty work."

"We are disappointed in the decision of the Texas court to block loan relief moving forward. Amidst efforts to block our debt relief program, we are not standing down," U.S. Education Secretary Miguel Cardona said in a statement after Judge Mark Pittman of the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Texas declared the Biden administration's debt relief plan "unconstitutional."

"Despite this decision, we will never stop fighting for the millions of hardworking students and borrowers across the country," the secretary continued. "We believe strongly that the Biden-Harris Student Debt Relief Plan is lawful and necessary to give borrowers and working families breathing room as they recover from the pandemic and to ensure they succeed when repayment restarts."

"The Department of Justice has appealed today's decision on our behalf, and we will continue to keep borrowers informed about our efforts to deliver targeted relief," he added.

According to the White House, 26 million people have already applied, and 16 million have been approved, for student loan relief. Under the program, borrowers earning up to $125,000 as an individual or $250,000 as a household are eligible for between $10,000 and $20,000 in federal student loan relief, depending upon the type of loan they received.

In his ruling, Pittman found that two plaintiffs who brought the case with the backing of the billionaire-funded Job Creators Network Foundation had standing to sue, despite neither being fully eligible for student debt relief.

The Intercept's Ken Klippenstein reported earlier this week that one of the plaintiffs, Myra Brown, did receive a $48,000 Paycheck Protection Program small business loan earlier during the Covid-19 pandemic—of which $47,996 was forgiven.

Legal experts and progressive politicians condemned Pittman's ruling. 

"My first response was, this is motivated reasoning by a judge who wants to come to this result," Luke Herrine, an assistant professor of law at the University of Alabama and legal director at the Debt Collective, told NPR. "The legal analysis is flawed."

Congressional Progressive Caucus Chair Pramila Jayapal (D-Wash.) tweeted: "This is a ludicrous opinion from a Trump-appointed judge. I'm glad the administration is appealing. Dems are fighting for middle-class relief while GOP special interests and judges are trying to block it on outlandish grounds."

Pittman's decision comes weeks after the conservative-dominated Eighth U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals temporarily stopped the Biden administration from "discharging any student loan debt" until the court rules on an emergency request from Republican-led states seeking to block the program.

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