Pittman, a Trump appointee in the Northern District of Texas, granted the plaintiffs’ motion for summary judgment. The Justice Department plans to appeal the verdict, according to a report in the Wall Street Journal.
The case was decided on the basis of separation of powers with Pittman noting, “[N]o one can plausibly deny that it is either one of the largest delegations of legislative power to the executive branch, or one of the largest exercises of legislative power without congressional authority in the history of the United States.”
The court noted that Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi acknowledged that the president did not have the power to forgive student loans.
As an exclamation mark to his ruling, Pittman quoted James Madison from Federalist No. 47: “The accumulation of all powers, legislative, executive, and judiciary, in the same hands, whether of one, a few, or many, and whether hereditary, self-appointed, or elective, may justly be pronounced the very definition of tyranny.”
The Biden administration announced the forgiveness plan on August 24 under the auspices of the HEROES Act, which allows the Education Department some latitude in modifying student loans in a national emergency. The emergency basis in this case was the COVID-19 pandemic, which Biden declared was over in a September interview.
Payments on federal student loans have been paused since President Donald Trump took the initial action in March 2020.
The HEROES Act program would forgive $10,000 in student loan debt per borrower earning less than $125,000 per year or $250,000 per household. Another $10,000 may be forgiven for those who qualified for Pell grants during college.
According to the Congressional Budget Office, the program would likely cost taxpayers around $400 billion.
“In this case, the HEROES Act — a law to provide loan assistance to military personnel defending our nation — does not provide the executive branch clear congressional authorization to create a $400 billion student loan forgiveness program,” Pittman wrote.
One of the questions raised about challenging the program concerns standing, a doctrine requiring that the party bringing the lawsuit must have a “personal stake” in the case by demonstrating he has suffered an “injury in fact” caused by the defendant that can be remedied by the requested relief.
The lawsuit was filed on October 10 by two persons holding student loans, Myra Brown and Alexander Taylor. Brown’s were private loans from a commercial establishment, so she didn’t qualify for the forgiveness program. Taylor’s loans don’t qualify for forgiveness because he did not receive Pell grants while in college.
The court found that Brown and Taylor had suffered injury because they cannot “obtain the full benefit of debt forgiveness under the Program” due to its eligibility requirements, which they do not meet.
The opinion went on to explain that the plaintiffs fulfilled the second requirement of standing — causation — because the program was passed without the requisite notice-and-comment period under Administrative Procedure Act.
The last prong of standing — redressability — is met because striking down the program may cause the defendants to “reconsider the confines of the Program,” the court wrote.
The Job Creators Network Foundation, which represented the plaintiffs, praised Pittman’s ruling. “This ruling protects the rule of law which requires all Americans to have their voices heard by their federal government,” Elaine Parker, president of the foundation, said in a press statement.
The Biden administration continued to defend the program after the ruling with White House Press Secretary Karine Jean-Pierre stating, “We will never stop fighting for hardworking Americans most in need — no matter how many roadblocks our opponents and special interests try to put in our way.”
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Kim Roberts is a regional reporter for the Texan in the DFW metroplex area where she has lived for over twenty years. She has a Juris Doctor from Baylor University Law School and a Bachelor's in government from Angelo State University. In her free time, Kim home schools her daughter and coaches high school extemporaneous speaking and apologetics. She has been happily married to her husband for 23 years, has three wonderful children, and two dogs.