Student loan borrowers and advocates rally outside of the Supreme Court

Student loan borrowers and advocates rally outside of the Supreme Court on February 28, 2023 in Washington, D.C.

(Photo: Jemal Countess/Getty Images for People's Rally to Cancel Student Debt)

'This Isn't the End,' Campaigners Say as Supreme Court Strikes Down Student Debt Relief

"The Supreme Court can strike this iteration of relief down, but it won't have the last word," said one organizer.

The U.S. Supreme Court on Friday sided with a group of Republican attorneys general and struck down the Biden administration's student debt cancellation program, undercutting efforts to deliver relief to tens of millions of borrowers.

In a 6-3 ruling along ideological lines, the high court's six conservative justices ruled that the GOP officials had standing to sue even though the Missouri student loan servicer they alleged would be harmed by the debt relief program was not part of the case.

Chief Justice John Roberts wrote the majority opinion, which ruled that the emergency power the Biden administration cited—the 2003 HEROES Act—"does not authorize" the Education Department's debt cancellation program.

The Supreme Court unanimously dismissed a separate challenge to the student debt relief program brought by two individual plaintiffs whose lawsuit was funded by the billionaire-backed Job Creators Network Foundation.

In her dissent in Biden v. Nebraska, liberal Justice Elena Kagan wrote that "at the behest of a party that has suffered no injury, the majority decides a contested public policy issue properly belonging to the politically accountable branches and the people they represent."

"So in a case not a case," Kagan added, "the majority overrides the combined judgment of the legislative and executive branches, with the consequence of eliminating loan forgiveness for 43 million Americans."

Debt relief campaigners pledged to keep up the fight, imploring the Biden administration to swiftly use his authority under the Higher Education Act of 1965 to enact broad-based debt cancellation.

"Debtors getting angry, hopeful, and organized is what put student debt cancellation on the political map," said Astra Taylor, co-founder of the Debt Collective. "We've won billions of dollars of relief so far, and we're just getting started. The Supreme Court can strike this iteration of relief down, but it won't have the last word."

The Supreme Court's decision to block debt relief sets the stage for an economic disaster.

In October, after being paused during the coronavirus pandemic, student loan repayments are set to resume, leaving borrowers who are already struggling financially with hundreds of dollars in additional payments each month.

"Student loan relief is a promise from President Biden to more than 40 million families," said Melissa Byrne, a debt relief campaigner and executive director of We the 45 Million. "It is our chance for dignity. He must immediately implement a plan B including finding a different path to ensure no repayment begins until cancellation is delivered."

"Failure to deliver student loan relief," Byrne added, "is not an option."

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