One day after ruling against affirmative action, the U.S. Supreme Court firmly struck down President Joe Biden’s proposed debt forgiveness plans for students who borrowed money to finance their college educations. Once again, the panel of conservative-leaning judges on the nation’s highest court voted along ideological lines to defeat efforts championed by Democrats.
In a 6-to-3 decision, Chief Justice John G. Roberts Jr. wrote that a mass debt cancellation program of such significance required clear congressional authorization.
Chief Justice Roberts declared that the administration’s logic — that the secretary of education’s power to “waive or modify” loan terms allowed for debt cancellation — was a vast overreach. “In the same sense that the French Revolution ‘modified’ the status of the French nobility,” he wrote, quoting a previous court decision.
The ruling Friday in two cases — Biden v. Nebraska and Department of Education v. Brown — came nearly one year after Biden announced his plan to cancel up to $10,000 for people with federal student loan debt, Biden said his administration would also cancel up to an additional $10,000 for Pell Grant recipients. Borrowers eligible for their debt to be canceled must earn less than $125,000 annually or $250,000 for married couples who file joint taxes.
In addition to the student loan debt cancellation, Biden also said at the time he was extending the pause on federal student loan debt payments.
But before his plans could go into effect, a federal appeals court issued a temporary stay in response to a motion filed by Republicans who claimed the debt forgiveness was unconstitutional. The case then went all the way up to the Supreme Court, culminating in its ruling on Friday.
The Supreme Court’s decision is particularly devastating for Black borrowers, who on average, owe $52,000 in student loan debt. Black students are more than twice as likely to report graduate school debt than their white counterparts.
The court’s decision came just about 24 hours after it struck down affirmative action, forbidding colleges to consider the race of applicants in admissions — another ruling with vast implications for Black students.
“Today, after a devastating ruling gutting affirmative action, the Supreme Court is standing in the way of life-changing student debt cancellation, a kitchen table issue and one that is deeply personal for millions of Black families across America,” the Congressional Black Caucus said in a statement emailed to NewsOne. “For too long, our nation’s student debt crisis has disproportionately impacted Black Americans—particularly Black women—due to discriminatory policies that have denied us the opportunity to build generational wealth.”
The statement encouraged Biden and his administration to look for alternative routes to successfully cancel student debt.
“We applauded President Biden when he took historic action to cancel student debt, which would zero out the debt of one in four Black borrowers while helping millions of people make ends meet, build generational wealth, grow their families, purchase homes, and more,” the statement added. “Today, he must follow through on his promise and act swiftly and decisively to deliver this transformative relief. Our communities have waited long enough.”
In an op-ed for NewsOne last year, Dream Defenders organizer Alicia Cox said canceling student loans would expand economic opportunity for many. Cox also shared what debt cancellation could mean for other organization members.
“Without student loan debt, thousands of us would have the opportunity to move out of our parent’s homes, afford childcare, buy a house, increase our credit score, start a family and feel less stressed about our finances and more sure of our futures,” wrote Cox. “Like many of my fellow organizers, I owe over $35,000 in student loan debt.”
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