The key legal question in the cases before the Supreme Court on Tuesday is whether the Higher Education Relief Opportunities for Students Act of 2003, known as the HEROES Act, grants the executive branch an emergency power to implement President Joe Biden’s student loan forgiveness program.
The HEROES Act, which was passed in the wake of the September 11, 2001, terrorist attacks, grants the secretary of education the power to “waive or modify” a federal student loan program in order to ensure that individuals “are not placed in a worse position financially” because of “a war or other military operation or national emergency.”
Lawyers for the Biden administration argue that this provision gives the secretary of education the authority to cancel federal student loan debt so that borrowers are not made worse off with respect to their loans by the effects of the Covid-19 pandemic.
They cite data that shows borrowers who previously had their payments paused due to an emergency like a hurricane were at a higher risk of default after the pause expired.
But plaintiffs argue the Biden administration is abusing its power and using the pandemic as a pretext for fulfilling the president’s campaign pledge to cancel student debt.
Even before ruling on the merits of the cases, the justices must consider whether the suing parties have standing to bring the legal challenges. This means that the parties must show that they have the legal injury necessary to be able to bring the challenge.
Last year, a district court found that the states did not have standing to sue. The states appealed to the 8th US Circuit Court of Appeals, which granted their request for a preliminary injunction.
If the justices decide that none of the parties have standing, the cases will be dismissed and Biden’s program will be allowed to move forward.