Did Biden overstep his authority with student loan forgiveness plan?

President Joe Biden’s student loan forgiveness plan has drawn more than 22 million applicants so far. Photo by Shutterstock.

More than 22 million people have already applied for President Joe Biden’s student loan forgiveness plan. He’s described the process as “easy as signing up while hanging out with your friends or at home and watching a movie.” However, last week, a U.S. federal appeals court halted the plan from taking effect. The challenge came from six Republican-led states: Arkansas, Missouri, Nebraska, Iowa, Kansas, and South Carolina. 

“Their arguments are basically that the Biden administration should not have done this without Congress,” says Jessica Levinson, professor at Loyola Law School. “And what they're saying is the Biden administration just overstepped, that they're looking at this 2003 law called the Heroes Act, and that it does not give the Biden administration the power, in this case, to say we're completely canceling this kind of subset of federal student loans. And they if they wanted to do something that big … they really needed to act in concert with Congress. And that's frankly an argument that we've heard from states on a whole host of issues.”

The White House says the text of the Heroes Act allows the president to modify or cancel debt when it comes to national emergencies, which applies in this case because it’s the coronavirus pandemic, Levinson explains. 

“It's really a question of executive authority and what falls within that statutory language of national emergency.” 

Meanwhile, the U.S. Supreme Court blocked a separate challenge to the program.