Why a Texas Judge Blocked Biden’s Student Loan Writ

  • Trump-appointed judge Mark Pittman struck down Biden’s debt forgiveness in Texas last week.
  • He argued that the two plaintiff student loan borrowers had sufficient standing to block the plan.
  • But some legal experts and Democrats said Pittman shouldn’t have taken up the case at all.

A federal judge ruled President Joe Biden’s plan to cancel student debt for millions of borrowers illegal.

On Thursday night, Mark Pittman — a Texas judge appointed by former President Donald Trump — scuttled Biden’s plan to forgive up to $20,000 in student loans for federal borrowers earning less than $125,000 a year. He ruled in favor of two student-loan borrowers who filed the lawsuit because each of them was ineligible for the full amount of relief, and at this point Pittman’s remorse bars the Department of Education from repaying student loans until a final ruling is reached.

The Biden Department of Justice has appealed, but the administration is not currently accepting new student loan applications.

The Texas case, along with a number of other lawsuits backed by conservative groups, challenges Biden’s authority to apply the HEROES Act of 2003, which gives the Secretary of Education the ability to waive or modify student loan balances in connection with a national emergency related to COVID-19 . They contended that passing a broad student loan was a transgression of authority and should require congressional approval, while Biden contended that the one-time student loan waiver was within the administration’s legal authority.

Pittman agreed with the Conservatives’ arguments in his ruling. “The issue at stake in this case is whether Congress — through the HEROES Act — has authorized the Secretary to implement a program that would provide debt relief to millions of student loan borrowers totaling over $400 billion.” , Pittman wrote in his verdict. “Whether the program constitutes good public policy is not for this court to determine. Yet no one can plausibly deny that this is either one of the largest transfers of legislative power to the Executive Branch or one of the largest exercises of legislative power without Congressional authority in United States history.”

The other lawsuits also go through the courts. The 8th Circuit Court of Appeals, for example, ruled Monday that its temporary suspension of student debt forgiveness would remain in effect pending further court orders in a separate lawsuit in which six Republican-led states would have sued the loan forgiveness, arguing the harm the tax revenues of their states.

One of the key points of Pittman’s ruling is that the plaintiffs did indeed meet the legal requirements for a valid lawsuit. He ruled they had standing to sue the government, but several prominent Democrats and legal experts have challenged that decision — and other courts have dismissed similar Conservative lawsuits for lack of standing.

standing of the plaintiffs

Both plaintiffs who filed the lawsuit in Texas own student loans. The first plaintiff, Myra Brown, sued because her loans are held commercially and are therefore not eligible for Biden’s debt forgiveness, which requires the borrower to owe its debt directly to the federal government. And the other plaintiff, Alexander Taylor, sued because he was only eligible for $10,000 in debt relief and not the full $20,000 because he did not receive a Pell scholarship in college.

They both argued that they were not given an opportunity to challenge the relief prior to its announcement because it had not passed the Administrative Procedures Act’s notice and comment period, and they said that the typical rulemaking processes were not gone through, along with the overstepping of powers granted through the HEROES Act, were reasons why debt relief should be blocked.

Pittman ruled that the plaintiffs had valid grounds to sue the administration. Pittman wrote that standing has three legal requirements: there must be actual damage, there must be causation, and there must be redress, which represents the likelihood that the remedy sought — in this case, the blocking of the Debt Relief – would fix the damage caused. Pittman said that Biden’s Justice Department argument that the plaintiffs’ position did not exist was “untrue.”

“Plaintiffs are not arguing that they are injured because other people are receiving credit forgiveness,” Pittman wrote. “Their hurt — no matter how many people receive loan forgiveness — is that they have not personally received forgiveness and have been denied the procedural right to comment on the program’s eligibility requirements.”

And while Pittman concluded that the debt relief did not violate procedural rules, he said it violated the powers of the HEROES Act because “the pandemic was declared a national emergency nearly three years ago and weeks before the President’s program for ‘ over’ was declared”. Therefore, it is unclear whether COVID-19 is still a ‘national emergency’ under the law.”

Some Democrats and legal experts have criticized the verdict

While Republican lawmakers were quick to praise Pittman’s decision, some legal experts were unconvinced of the verdict’s merits. Steve Vladeck, a CNN legal analyst and professor at the University of Texas School of Law, wrote in an op-ed piece that “the biggest problem with Pittman’s ruling is not its substance; that’s why he allowed the case to be brought in the first place.”

Vladeck referred to previous Conservative lawsuits aimed at challenging debt relief, which had been dismissed for lack of standing, and that if “the complaint consists only that the government is acting unlawfully in a way that does not affect the plaintiffs personally, this must be a matter to be resolved through the political process – not a judicial one.”

And Leah Litman, a professor at the University of Michigan School of Law, wrote on Twitter that the ruling is “just the latest example of Trump-appointed district judges doing utterly outlandish, lawless things to rule against the policies of Democratic governments,” referring to what she said was a lack of position on the side of the plaintiffs.

Massachusetts Sen. Elizabeth Warren also slammed the ruling, telling NBC News on Sunday, “We have a court in Texas, and if they’re playing politics instead of actually following the law, they’re jeopardizing the program.”