The Supreme Court will hear oral arguments on Feb. 28 in two cases that will decide the fate of President Joe Biden’s student loan forgiveness program.
Two student loan borrowers, and separately, a group of six states, have sued to block the program, and the cases have gone all the way to the highest court in the land, where they will be considered together. The court could pass down a ruling as late as early July.
The outcome, whether loan forgiveness is upheld or if it’s struck down, will affect the finances of more than 40 million borrowers with federally held student loans who are eligible for up to $20,000 in forgiveness each under the program.
Student loan forgiveness was a campaign promise a few years ago. See a timeline of the key events that brought the plan to this turning point.
Here are the key players in the two cases, Biden vs. Nebraska and Department of Education vs. Brown.
President Joe Biden set the case in motion in August, when he said the Department of Education would forgive up to $20,000 of federally held student loan debt per borrower, fulfilling a campaign promise he made while running for president in 2020.
In December, after the Supreme Court took up the case, the Biden administration said student loan forgiveness was legally sound, and that the White House “will keep fighting against efforts to rob middle class families of the relief they need and deserve” in the Supreme Court.
The State of Nebraska and Five Others
In September, Nebraska, Arkansas, Iowa, Kansas, Missouri, and South Carolina sued the Biden administration, seeking to block his student loan forgiveness program from going into effect. The states said the program harms student loan servicing companies based in their states, and that the Department of Education lacks the authority to forgive student loans.
Education Secretary Miguel Cardona was appointed by Biden in 2021 and is in charge of implementing the student loan forgiveness program.
“We remain confident in our legal authority to adopt this program that will ensure the financial harms caused by the pandemic don’t drive borrowers into delinquency and default,” Cardona said in a statement in January.
The Department of Education was the target of a lawsuit filed by Myra Brown, meaning that the case before the Supreme Court is titled “Dept. of Education vs. Brown,” not to be confused with “Brown vs. Board of Education,” the landmark 1954 civil rights case that desegregated public schools.
Elizabeth Prelogar is the solicitor general, the administration’s top advocate at the Supreme Court. She has served in her role since October 2021, and has argued numerous cases on behalf of the government going back to 2014, when she was an assistant to the solicitor general.
The Supreme Court’s Conservative Majority
Six of the court’s nine justices were appointed by Republican presidents, making for an overwhelming conservative majority consisting of John Roberts (nominated by George W. Bush); Clarence Thomas (George H.W. Bush); Samuel Alito (George W. Bush); Neil Gorsuch, (Donald Trump); Brett Kavanaugh (Trump); and Amy Coney Barrett (Trump).
Some legal scholars say the Biden administration faces an uphill battle, given the conservative court’s track record of limiting the powers of government agencies.
Myra Brown is a plaintiff in one of the two cases against student loan forgiveness that the Supreme Court is considering. In October, Brown, a graduate of the University of Texas at El Paso and the Cox School of Business at Southern Methodist University, sued the Department of Education to block the plan, saying it harmed her because her “more than $17,000” in privately held loans weren't eligible for forgiveness.
Since filing the suit, Brown has come under scrutiny because her sign-making company, Desert Star Enterprises in Grapevine, Texas, received a $48,000 loan from the Paycheck Protection Program, of which $47,996 was forgiven.
Alexander Taylor, a plaintiff together with Brown, is a graduate of the University of Dallas and had $35,000 in student loan debt as of January, according to court filings. Taylor is suing the department because he isn't eligible for the full amount of the proposal, which forgives up to $10,000 of student debt for those with federally held loans, and an additional $10,000 for those who went to college on Pell grants for students from low-income families.
The lawsuit argues that because Taylor didn't get a Pell grant and doesn’t get the full $20,000, it is unfair to “deny Taylor full debt forgiveness based on the financial circumstances of his parents many years ago.”
Job Creators Network
The Job Creators Network, which is bankrolling Brown and Taylor’s lawsuit, is a conservative advocacy group established by Home Depot co-founder Bernie Marcus.
In 2021, the group unsuccessfully sued Major League Baseball for moving its All-Star game from Georgia in response to voting laws passed by the state that the league said restricted voting access.
Howard “Buck” McKeon
McKeon is a former Republican congressman from California who filed an advisory amicus brief on the student loan case urging the Supreme Court to strike it down. He's important to the case because of his involvement with the HEROES Act of 2003, the law that the Biden administration says authorizes the Secretary of Education to forgive student loans en masse during a national emergency.
McKeon describes himself as a co-author of the HEROES Act of 2001, a precursor of the HEROES Act of 2003, and told the court the law was never intended to allow widespread student loan forgiveness.
Miller is a former Democratic congressman from California who describes himself as “the chief architect” of the HEROES Act of 2003 as well as one of its co-sponsors. Miller also filed an amicus brief with the court, and in contrast to McKeon, says the law was intended to allow mass student loan debt forgiveness.