Fate of Biden's student loan plan tops packed Supreme Court calendar
President Biden grants some student debt relief. Advocates worry it's not enough.
Student loan repayments are impacted by inflation and tuition hikes, with income not meeting demand. Advocates worry that $10,000 in debt relief isn't enough.
Megan Smith, USA TODAY
WASHINGTON – The fate of President Joe Biden's $400 billion student debt relief plan – as well as a hotly debated law that shields Big Tech companies like Google from lawsuits – will come into sharper focus in coming days as the Supreme Court returns to the bench this week and resumes oral arguments.
Both cases will likely draw tough questions from the court's conservative majority.
First up: The high court will hear oral arguments Tuesday in a dispute between Google and the family of an American killed in an Islamic State group attack in Paris in 2015. That case will require the court to wade into a growing debate over whether and when Big Tech should be shielded from lawsuits for online content.
The court Thursday dumped a third high-profile issue that had been on its calendar: Immigration. It pulled a case dealing with the pandemic-era Title 42 program, which allows for the rapid removal of certain migrants because of COVID-19. The court didn't explain its decision but the Biden administration announced weeks earlier it will in May end the emergency declarations that authorized the removals.
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A federal appeals court blocked President Joe Biden's student loan program in October and it's been tied up in various courts ever since. The Supreme Court agreed to hear arguments in two cases and declined to reinstate the program in the meantime.
Those arguments are set for Feb. 28.
One of the questions in play: Whether Biden exceeded his authority by implementing the loan forgiveness plan without going through Congress. The government is likely to face questions about why the program is still needed now that Biden plans to end emergencies declared because of COVID-19.
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The administration argues the law allows loan forgiveness for borrowers who were affected by the emergency, even if the emergency is over.
The plaintiffs were "already arguing the improved economic conditions" meant there was no legal basis for the loan forgiveness, said Michael C. Dorf, a law professor at Cornell University. But, he said, "it was always open to the administration to argue – as it does argue – that the effects of an economic downturn ... linger long after the downturn ends."
The cases are Biden v. Nebraska and Department of Education. v. Brown.
Biden's plan would cancel up to $20,000 in student loan debt for Pell Grant recipients, and $10,000 for other borrowers, for people earning up to $125,000 a year or part of a household where total earnings are no more than $250,000.
The Supreme Court will hear arguments Tuesday in a case about whether internet platforms such as Google may be liable for targeted recommendations, such as when YouTube suggests a follow-up video. The family of an American killed in a terrorist attack says YouTube, through its algorithms, recommended videos that aided extremists.
That case, Gonzalez v. Google, will thrust the court into a fierce debate over Section 230, a law widely interpreted as shielding Big Tech from such lawsuits.
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In a separate but related case Wednesday, the court will debate whether Twitter, Google and Facebook can be held liable under a 2016 law for “aiding and abetting” the Islamic State group.
Biden wants to end the pandemic-era policy that allows for the rapid removal of migrants. And in November, a federal court required the administration to stop those removals. But a group of conservative state officials who say their states would be adversely affected want to step into the case and defend the use of Title 42.
The Supreme Court had been set to hear arguments in Arizona v. Mayorkas on March 1. But the court announced Thursday it was removing the case from its calendar – though the appeal wasn't dismissed and remains pending before the justices.
The question for the high court is whether the states – including Arizona, Louisiana and Missouri – may jump into the fight. If the court rules they can, it would prolong the legal battle and keep Title 42 in place.
Explainer: What is Title 42? Why Republicans and Democrats want it to stay
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Though the court didn't explain its decision about arguments in the case, it likely is because Biden plans to end the COVID-19 emergency declarations in May. The emergencies are what allowed the Trump and Biden administrations to expedite removals. Without them, the government argues, the states' case falls apart.