February 3, 2023
Utah Attorney General Sean D. Reyes led a 17-state coalition in filing two amicus briefs at the United States Supreme Court, Department of Education v. Brown v. and Biden v. Nebraska.
Each case argues that President Biden’s student-loan forgiveness program is illegal because it is not clearly authorized by statute. The coalition is asking the Supreme Court to affirm the judgments below that found the student-loan forgiveness program to be unlawful.
In August of 2022, the Biden Administration announced a program that would cancel $400 billion in outstanding federal student loans. The Secretary of Education attempted to issue the loan forgiveness under the HEROES Act, a post-9/11 statute enacted to modify or waive student loan requirements for individuals in military service.
The States argue that the HEROES Act does not authorize the Secretary of Education to issue mass cancellations of student loans. The HEROES Act of 2003 only permits the Secretary of Education to waive or modify student loan requirements in limited circumstances. The Secretary’s attempt to exercise power of such vast economic and political significance requires clear Congressional authorization.
In the amicus brief supporting Department of Education v. Brown, the attorneys general point out that many beneficiaries are not “affected individuals” eligible for relief under the HEROES Act. Eligible individuals are:
(A) is serving on active duty during a war or other military
operation or national emergency;
(B) is performing qualifying National Guard duty during a
war or other military operation or national emergency;
(C) resides or is employed in an area that is declared a disaster area by any Federal, State, or local official in connection
with a national emergency; or
(D) suffered direct economic hardship as a direct result of a
war or other military operation or national emergency, as determined by the Secretary
The Secretary may “waive or modify” certain provisions in the Higher Education Act, but may only do so when “necessary in connection with a war or other military operation or other national emergency.”
The government claims the COVID-19 pandemic is a national emergency that justifies the program. The brief states: ” If Congress wanted the HEROES Act to empower the Secretary to cancel hundreds of billions of dollars in student-loan debt, it needed to do so clearly. It failed to do so; the HEROES Act clearly does not authorize the Secretary to forgive hundreds of billions of dollars in student debt based on a pandemic that is, in every relevant sense, over.”
Attorney General Reyes said, “Congress has repeatedly considered and rejected student-loan cancellation. The Executive Branch cannot sidestep the legislative process just to gain political points. As long as the President continues to push the constitutionally established limits on his power, I will fight to hold him accountable in the courts.”