On November 22, 2022, a coalition of legal experts represented by Democracy Forward submitted a brief to the Supreme Court of the United States reinforcing the legal basis for President Biden’s student loan debt relief plan. The brief urges SCOTUS to vacate the injunction entered by the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Eighth Circuit in State of Nebraska v. Biden that temporarily halted the plan.

The law professors join a broad coalition of advocates, attorneys and experts in submitting briefs that explain the legality, necessity, and urgency of the debt relief plan. 

Signers of the legal experts’ brief are professors of law at universities throughout the United States, with expertise in student financial assistance programs under Title IV of the Higher Education Act of 1965, consumer finance, and administrative and constitutional law. Signers include Peter M. Shane, Jacob E. Davis and Jacob E. Davis II Chair in Law, Ohio State University, Moritz College of Law; Jonathan Glater, Professor at University of California, Berkeley School of Law; Dalié Jiménez, Professor of Law and Director of the Student Loan Law Initiative at the University of California, Irvine School of Law; Erwin Chemerinsky, Dean and Jesse H. Choper Distinguished Professor of Law, University of California, Berkeley School of Law; William Araiza, Stanley A. August Professor of Law at Brooklyn Law School; Matthew Adam Bruckner, Associate Professor of Law at Howard University School of Law; Chrystin Ondersma, Professor of Law and Judge Morris Stern Scholar at Rutgers Law School; Jeffrey Lubbers, Professor of Practice in Administrative Law at American University’s Washington College of Law; Pamela Foohey, Professor of Law at Indiana University Bloomington’s Maurer School of Law;  Peter L. Strauss, Betts Professor Emeritus of Law at Columbia Law School; and Luke Herrine, Assistant Professor of Law at The University of Alabama School of Law. 

The professors’ brief explains that the bipartisan HEROES Act of 2003 authorizes the Secretary of Education to waive provisions of the federal student loan program when a national emergency has impaired borrowers’ ability to repay their loans. As the Department prepares to resume payments for the first time since the beginning of the pandemic, the Secretary paired payment resumption with a partial, one-time waiver of lower-income students’ debt obligations, the group at highest risk of default, to ensure that resuming payments after the pandemic wouldn’t imperil those borrowers’ tenuous finances. The Secretary took the exact type of action Congress empowered it to take in the precise context Congress authorized it to act for the specific purpose Congress intended.

The professors went on to explain that the Court should resist the effort by conservative legal interests to invoke a legal doctrine reserved for extraordinary cases involving unheralded and transformational agency authority (the major questions doctrine) here. The Secretary of Education acted well within the core of his regulatory authority, exercising clear powers granted by Congress to protect borrowers during a national emergency. The Court should not upend this statutory scheme by extending the major questions doctrine far beyond existing precedent.