Speed Reads

Challenge denied

Federal courts block 2 challenges to Biden's students debt relief plan

A federal judge in Missouri and Supreme Court Justice Amy Coney Barrett on Thursday rejected two challenges to President Biden's students loan forgiveness plan, a few days before the Education Department will start discharging up to $20,000 of debt for the 12 million people who've applied for relief in the program's first week. Barrett dismissed without explanation an application for an emergency injunction from a local Wisconsin taxpayer organization, likely agreeing with a lower court that the group lacks standing.

U.S. District Judge Henry Autrey in St. Louis rejected what was widely seen as the most serious legal challenge to Biden's plan, a lawsuit by six states claiming the debt forgiveness will deprive them of tax revenue and harm state entities that profit from a defunct type of federal students loan. The states — Nebraska, Missouri, Arkansas, Iowa, Kansas, and South Carolina — also argue Biden's order is unlawful. 

The Education Department tweaked Biden's plan hours before the states filed suit, stripping eligibility from borrowers still paying off the older type of loan. Autrey, a George W. Bush appointee, agreed that Biden's changes to the program undercut the legal case and also said the states lack standing to sue. "While plaintiffs present important and significant challenges to the debt relief plan, the current plaintiffs are unable to proceed to the resolution of these challenges," he wrote.

The states said they will appeal Autrey's ruling. "An appeal would send the case to a conservative panel of judges on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 8th Circuit," The Washington Post notes

The lawsuit from the six states "was probably the strongest" of the legal challenges to Biden's debt forgiveness plan, but it isn't he only one, NPR's Cory Turner said Thursday. And "with the cases that are still outstanding, it's worth remembering that these conservative legal groups have been pretty thoughtful about where they're filing their lawsuits, hoping they'll get a more sympathetic conservative judge — places like Arizona and Texas. So anything is still possible." 

At the same time, "it seems pretty unlikely at this point that a court will intervene before cancelation starts" as early as Sunday, Turner adds, and legal experts say "it's highly unlikely" that the courts would undo the cancelations, in part "because restoring student loans after they'd been erased is not unlike trying to put a sneeze back in your nose."