Federal Judge Orders End to Student Debt Relief Plan

November 11, 2022 by Tom Ramstack
Federal Judge Orders End to Student Debt Relief Plan
The Princeton University campus. (Photo by Dan McCue)

DALLAS, Texas — A federal judge in Texas on Thursday blocked the Biden administration’s plan to wipe out as much as $20,000 in student debt for millions of borrowers.

He said the plan exceeds the authority of the president without first getting legislative approval from Congress.

He called the $400 billion debt forgiveness plan an “unconstitutional exercise of Congress’ legislative power.”

The Justice Department appealed the ruling on the same day Judge Mark Pittman of the Northern District of Texas issued it.


“We will never stop fighting for hard-working Americans most in need — no matter how many roadblocks our opponents and special interests try to put in our way,” White House Press Secretary Karine Jean-Pierre said in a statement.

Other criticism of the debt forgiveness plan came from Republicans, who said it would add to the nation’s already high inflation rate.

The judge’s ruling responded to a lawsuit filed by two student loan borrowers who sued after failing to qualify for the debt forgiveness. One had private — rather than government — loans while the other was not a Pell Grant recipient.

Pell Grants refer to money the federal government gives to students in financial need to help them pay their tuition.

The plaintiffs argued the loan forgiveness program violated the Administrative Procedure Act’s notice and comment requirements and made arbitrary decisions about who qualifies for debt relief.

The Biden administration plan would cancel as much as $10,000 of student debt for borrowers who make less than $125,000 a year. They could get up to $20,000 in loan forgiveness if they received Pell Grants.

The plan would cancel student loans for as many as 16 million borrowers.


It ran into its first roadblock when Republicans in six states and conservative groups sued to stop it, prompting a federal judge in St. Louis, Missouri, to order a pause on the program last month while the court considered whether the plaintiffs have a right to sue.

The ruling Thursday went further, ordering a permanent end to the program.

“No 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,” Pittman wrote in his 26-page order.

The Biden administration drew authority from the 2003 federal HEROES Act, which authorizes the Education Department to cancel or modify federal student loans during war or a national emergency. The HEROES Act was designed to provide loan assistance to members of the U.S. military.

The national emergency for the student debt forgiveness plan was the COVID-19 pandemic, Biden said when he announced the program in August.

Pittman disagreed, writing that the HEROES Act “does not provide the executive branch clear congressional authorization to create a $400 billion student loan forgiveness program.”

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., gave delayed support to the debt forgiveness program after first saying approval for it should have come from Congress.

Pittman followed similar reasoning when he wrote, “In this country, we are not ruled by an all-powerful executive with a pen and a phone. Instead, we are ruled by a Constitution that provides for three distinct and independent branches of government.”

The ruling won praise from the conservative Job Creators Network Foundation, which said in a statement, “This ruling protects the rule of law which requires all Americans to have their voices heard by their federal government.”


The case is Myra Brown et al. v. U.S. Department of Education et al. in the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Texas.

Tom can be reached at [email protected] and @TomRamstack

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