Washington — A group of Wisconsin taxpayers is asking the Supreme Court to block implementation of President Biden’s student loan relief program days before the administration will start accepting applications, arguing the president circumvented Congress’ spending powers with his plan to forgive up to $20,000 in college loans for millions of Americans.
The Brown County Taxpayers Association, represented by the Wisconsin Institute for Law and Liberty, filed an emergency request with Justice Amy Coney Barrett asking the high court to intervene while proceedings continue in the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 7th Circuit.
In their filing to Barrett, who oversees requests arising from the 7th Circuit, the Wisconsin taxpayers said Biden administration officials “exceeded their constitutional powers and their plan violates constitutional rights.”
“The assault on our separation of powers — and upon the principle that the spending power is vested solely in Congress — is extraordinary, and perhaps unprecedented,” they said, later adding that an injunction blocking the Biden administration from implementing the plan would “prevent a constitutional violation.”
“Absent one, [the administration] will deplete the federal treasury by a staggering amount. Once action is taken, a court cannot turn back the clock,” the group continued.
The Brown County Taxpayers Association filed their challenge to the student debt relief program earlier this month, and a federal district court dismissed the suit, finding the taxpayers did not have the legal standing to sue. The 7th Circuit declined to pause the ruling while proceedings continue.
In their filing to the Supreme Court, the Wisconsin taxpayers acknowledged that standing has been a “stumbling block.”
“The argument that a president may unilaterally forgive debt owed to the U.S. Treasury through executive fiat, and that no one has standing to challenge him, threatens the very foundations of a constitutional republic,” they wrote in their request, adding the federal courts “cannot be relegated to a mere bystander observing constitutional infractions of the highest orders.”
Mr. Biden announced in August he would be taking action to cancel up to $10,000 in federal student debt for Americans earning less than $125,000 annually, and an additional $10,000 for recipients of Pell Grants, which are awarded to students with the greatest financial need.
Up to 43 million borrowers will be provided relief under the plan, of which nearly 20 million people will have their remaining debt fully canceled, according to the White House.
In anticipation of legal challenges — the Wisconsin taxpayers, conservative groups and six GOP-led states have sued over the plan — the Department of Education issued a memo laying out the legal authority for the relief program, which rests on a law called the HEROES Act enacted in 2003 after the Sept. 11, 2001, terror attacks.
The memo from Lisa Brown, the department’s general counsel, argues the HEROES Act provides Education Secretary Miguel Cardona “broad authority” to grant student debt relief during specific periods, including war or national emergencies such as the COVID-19 pandemic.
But the Wisconsin taxpayers told the Supreme Court that the “major questions doctrine” prevents the president from relying on the 2003 law to create the student debt relief program. Under the major questions doctrine, federal agencies that seek to decide issues of “vast economic and political significance” cannot take action without clear congressional authorization.
“In the president’s view, the HEROES Act empowers him to forgive the loans of anyone who has been affected by something that can be called an emergency,” they said. “It does not. And if it did, it would be unconstitutional.”
As the legal challenges to the program wind through the courts, the Biden administration has proceeded with its student debt plan, rolling out a website where borrowers can apply for loan forgiveness.