In March 2020, President Donald J. Trump declared that the coronavirus pandemic was a national emergency, and his administration invoked the HEROES Act to pause student loan repayment requirements and to suspend the accrual of interest.
The Biden administration followed suit. The payment pause has cost the government more than $100 billion, according to the Government Accountability Office.
In August, the administration said it planned to switch gears, ending the repayment pause but forgiving $10,000 in debt for individuals earning less than $125,000 per year, or $250,000 per household, and $20,000 for those who received Pell grants for low-income families.
Nearly 26 million borrowers have applied to have some of their student loan debt erased. While the government has approved 16 million applications, no debt has been canceled yet. The Education Department, which owns and manages the government’s $1.5 trillion student debt portfolio, stopped accepting applications in light of the legal challenges.
In separate cases, the six Republican-led states — Nebraska, Missouri, Arkansas, Iowa, Kansas and South Carolina — and two individuals sued to stop the new plan. They relied on recent decisions employing the so-called major questions doctrine, which says that Congress must speak particularly clearly when authorizing the executive branch to act on important political and economic questions.
Chief Justice Roberts said the doctrine doomed the loan forgiveness program.
Last June, the Supreme Court invoked the doctrine in a decision that curtailed the Environmental Protection Agency’s power to address climate change. Without “clear congressional authorization,” the court said, the agency could not act.
The court also ruled, on similar grounds, that the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention was not authorized to impose a moratorium on evictions and that the Occupational Safety and Health Administration was not authorized to tell large employers to have their workers vaccinated against Covid-19 or undergo frequent testing.