President Joe Biden’s student debt relief program won a pair of early legal victories on Thursday as Supreme Court Justice Amy Coney Barrett declined to halt the policy and a federal judge in Missouri dismissed a legal challenge from six Republican-led states.
The legal battles over the sweeping debt relief program, which offers up to $20,000 of loan forgiveness to tens of millions of Americans, are far from over — and the issue could potentially end back at the Supreme Court in a matter of days or weeks.
But, so far, several Republican-appointed judges have been cool to efforts by GOP state officials and conservative groups to put an immediate halt to Biden’s plan.
Barrett on Thursday swiftly rejected a Wisconsin conservative group’s emergency request to stop the policy without comment or any indication she referred the matter to the full court.
Barrett, a Donald Trump appointee, had received the request a day earlier because she oversees emergency matters from the 7th Circuit Court of Appeals. It was the first time a legal challenge to Biden’s relief plan had reached the high court.
The Brown County Taxpayers Association had argued that it should be able to challenge the Biden administration’s debt relief program on behalf of the taxpayers who it says will be dealt a “staggering” blow by the policy. The lawsuit was brought by the conservative Wisconsin Institute for Law & Liberty.
Also on Thursday, a federal judge in Missouri dismissed a lawsuit by six Republican-led states challenging the debt relief plan.
U.S. District Judge Henry Edward Autrey, a George W. Bush appointee, ruled that the states did not articulate the type of harm that’s needed to have their legal challenge hard in federal court.
“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,” Autrey wrote in a 19-page decision. He emphasized that his decision was focused on the state’s lack of standing and was not a comment on the legality of the debt relief plan.
The legal challenge brought by the six Republican officials — in Nebraska, Missouri, Arkansas, Iowa, Kansas and South Carolina — is likely to be appealed. It is widely seen by proponents and critics of the debt relief plan as among the most serious and credible challenges.
The GOP state attorneys general had argued that Biden’s student loan policy was illegal, unconstitutional, and should be stopped.
They argued that the Biden administration’s actions would cause them economic injury because of lost tax revenue as well as other losses stemming from federal student loans that state-related entities manage, own, or invest in. But Judge Autrey ruled on Thursday that many of those harms were “merely speculative” or at least not imminent.
In addition, he ruled that Missouri’s argument that it could claim any losses suffered by a quasi-state entity — the Missouri Higher Education Loan Authority, known as MOHELA — as its own.
MOHELA, which owns and services federal student loans, was not a named plaintiff in the lawsuit. And Autrey wrote that the organization’s finances were too removed from the state of Missouri for officials to be able to pursue the lawsuit on behalf of MOHELA.
The decision was, in part, a vindication of the Biden administration’s legal strategy to suddenly curtail its debt relief program without warning in September, which drew the ire of many borrowers and some progressives.
In a reversal, the Education Department announced Sept. 29 that it would no longer allow borrowers with federal loans held by private entities to convert their loans in a way that qualifies them for the relief program