Barrett again refuses to block Biden’s student debt collection

Amy Connie Barrett

U.S. Supreme Court Associate Justice Amy Coney Barrett poses for an official photo at the Supreme Court in Washington, DC on October 7, 2022.

Justice Amy Connie Barrett on Friday rejected the president’s conservative challenge without comment Joe Biden student loan forgiveness plan, the second such rejection in recent weeks.

On Tuesday, Nov. 1, Supreme Court records show, the Pacific Legal Foundation filed an emergency application for an injunction pending the appeal. The group, which calls itself “a nonprofit legal organization that defends Americans’ liberties when they are threatened by government overreach and abuse,” argued that Judge Barrett should block Biden’s agenda as the plaintiffs’ case Frank Garrison and Noel Johnson “proceeds to a trial on the merits” in the Seventh Circuit, former seat of justice.

“The [debt] termination would result in increased state tax liability for class members, and therefore plaintiffs respectfully request that this court grant an emergency injunction pursuant to the All Claims Act, 28 USC § 1651, to prevent imminent termination and subsequent tax liability,” the filing said.

“Student debt cancellation is one of the most controversial and hotly debated proposals in the country today,” the filing continued. “And while Congress has carved out certain avenues for loan forgiveness, such as the Public Service Loan Forgiveness (PSLF) program, some are calling for the government to cancel prime loans more broadly. However, Congress refused to do so.”

Biden’s program forgives up to $20,000 in federal student loans for qualified borrowers. Legally, the administration accomplished this through the Higher Education Opportunity Act of 2003 (the “HEROES Act”), which allows the federal government to adjust the terms of student loan programs during national emergencies. The administration reasoned that the COVID-19 pandemic is an emergency that underlies the changes.

The Pacific Legal Foundation’s filing alleged that the education department and its secretary Miguel Cardona “exceeded his authority under the HEROES Act, but also violated constitutional restrictions.”

“Therefore, they don’t have it legal interest in avoiding injunction. A huge number of borrowers face the possibility of unwanted and illegal tax liabilities through automatic foreclosures, while everyone American will pay half a trillion dollar bill for ED’s inadequate actions,” the filing said (some quotes removed for readability). “The public interest lies in adherence to ‘democratic processes,’ not ED action.”

“Even if none of this had happened, the ban would not have harmed the public interest,” the applicants tried to reassure the justice. “Loan payments and interest remain suspended, so no borrower will be disadvantaged by an injunction that allows the Seventh Circuit to review the merits of petitioners’ claims in an orderly fashion.”

But Barrett, the judge who hears such requests for the Seventh Circuit, didn’t bite. She categorically refused to grant an injunction pending appeal — and did not explain why.

The move mirrored how the justice panel handled a similar request on Oct. 20, when Barrett almost immediately rejected another conservative group’s request for an injunction that sought to derail the White House’s student debt relief plan while lower courts continue to litigate.

Elura Nanos contributed to this report.

[Image via OLIVIER DOULIERY/AFP via Getty Images]

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