A federal appeals court denied the Biden administration’s plea to proceed with its student loan forgiveness program.
According to The Washington Post, the 5th Circuit Court of Appeals confirmed last month’s verdict by U.S. District Judge Mark Pittman of Texas that the program exceeded President Joe Biden’s constitutional authority and placed it on pause.
The judgment by a panel of three judges permits the stay to remain in effect until the 5th Circuit schedules a full hearing on the matter.
According to Reuters, the Biden White House is also facing a second case in which it has sought the U.S. Supreme Court to overturn an 8th Circuit Court of Appeals judgment that has prohibited the program.
The Post added that in its submission to the Supreme Court over the 8th Circuit’s ruling, the Justice Department indicated it will appeal the 5th Circuit judgment to the Supreme Court as well if it goes against the administration.
Biden said in an August executive order that his government would cancel up to $10,000 in student loan debt for people earning less than $125,000 annually and couples earning less than $250,000 annually. Pell Grant applicants were entitled for up to $20,000 in debt forgiveness under Biden’s directive.
The Congressional Budget Office has calculated the idea will cost $400 billion, according to Reuters.
The Biden administration has put repayment on hold, prolonging a moratorium that began during the COVID-19 outbreak, despite the unpredictability of forgiveness. Payments were anticipated to resume on December 31.
Pittman noted in his ruling that the program was a power grab by the executive branch based on the Higher Education Relief Opportunities for Students Act of 2003. (or HEROES ACT). The legislation, approved in the aftermath of the 9/11 terrorist attacks, “gave the administration authority to forgive student loan debt in association with military operations or national emergencies,” USA Today said.
The Biden administration’s justification for the debt forgiveness scheme is that the COVID epidemic is a national emergency that justifies it. Pittman’s ruling wasn’t buying it.
“The Constitution vests ‘all legislative powers’ in Congress. This power, however, can be delegated to the executive branch. But if the executive branch seeks to use that delegated power to create a law of vast economic and political significance, it must have clear congressional authorization. If not, the executive branch unconstitutionally exercises ‘legislative powers’ vested in Congress,” he wrote.
“In this case, the HEROES Act— a law to provide loan assistance to military personnel defending our nation—does not provide the executive branch clear congressional authorization to create a $400 billion student loan forgiveness program.”
Pitman’s decision noted that the HEROES Act “does not mention loan forgiveness. If Congress provided clear congressional authorization for $400 billion in student loan forgiveness via the HEROES Act, it would have mentioned loan forgiveness. The Act allows the Secretary only to ‘waive or modify’ provisions of title IV.”
Pittman acknowledged that the COVID-19 epidemic may fit the act’s definition of a national emergency, but emphasized in his judgment that Vice President Biden had proclaimed the pandemic to be finished.
Pittman closed with a lesson in governance.
“Whether the Program constitutes good public policy is not the role of this Court to determine. Still, no one can plausibly deny that it is either one of the largest delegations of legislative power to the executive branch, or one of the largest exercises of legislative power without congressional authority in the history of the United States,” he wrote.
“In this country, we are not ruled by an all-powerful executive with a pen and a phone. Instead, we are ruled by a Constitution that provides for three distinct and independent branches of government,” he wrote.
“As President James Madison warned, ‘[t]he accumulation of all powers, legislative, executive, and judiciary, in the same hands, whether of one, a few, or many, and whether hereditary, self-appointed, or elective, may justly be pronounced the very definition of tyranny.’ THE FEDERALIST NO. 47,” Pittman wrote.
“The Court is not blind to the current political division in our country. But it is fundamental to the survival of our Republic that the separation of powers as outlined in our Constitution be preserved. And having interpreted the HEROES Act, the Court holds that it does not provide ‘clear congressional authorization’ for the Program proposed by the Secretary,” Pittman wrote.