Biden is taking on the Supreme Court by still trying to forgive student debt

  • After the Supreme Court ruled that President Joe Biden’s student loan forgiveness plan was not legal, the president was quick to say he would try to obtain relief in other ways.
  • “It’s a very direct confrontation with the court,” said legal historian Noah Rosenblum.

President Joe Biden delivers remarks on the Supreme Court decision on the government’s student debt relief program at the White House on June 30, 2023.

The Washington Post | The Washington Post | Getty Images

After the Supreme Court rejected the White House’s original federal student loan forgiveness plan earlier this year, legal historian Noah Rosenblum was struck by President Joe Biden’s response.

As far as Rosenblum could tell, Biden said the judges were wrong in their decision.

In addition, according to the assistant professor of law at New York University, the president announced that he would try to pursue the same goal with a different law.

“This is a very direct confrontation with the court,” Rosenblum said wrote Late June on X, the social media platform formerly known as Twitter.

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Indeed, just hours after judges blocked Biden’s plan to forgive tens of millions of Americans up to $20,000 in student debt, Biden delivered remarks from the White House saying, “Today’s decision has a path blocked. Now it’s our turn.” I’ll pursue another one.

CNBC interviewed Rosenblum this month about Biden’s student loan forgiveness plan B and the uniqueness of his stance on the Supreme Court.

(The interchange has been edited and shortened for clarity.)

Annie Nova: What exactly did you find so brave about President Biden disagreeing with the Supreme Court and announcing another student debt relief plan?

Noah Rosenblum: Mainstream Democrats have generally been reluctant to criticize the Supreme Court, despite its aggressive pursuit of unpopular Republican policies. The first thing that stood out was that Biden was going against the court at all. But I was also struck by how Biden chose to fight back. Instead of hiding behind mystifying legal jargon, he formulated the issue clearly and simply. He explained that his government had taken democratic measures and that the court had tried to usurp its power and prevent it from acting. Biden made it clear that it was thanks to the court that Americans would not get the relief his administration wanted to give them. And Biden said he will not allow the court to have the final say in explaining the meaning of the law.

AN: Why do you think there is a reluctance to challenge the judges?

NO: They believe that this is the result of a misreading of the famous events of 1937, in which Franklin Roosevelt positioned himself as an opponent of the court. The court is known to have rejected the New Deal legislation in the early 1930s. In response, Roosevelt threatened to appoint additional judges if he did not change course. Of course, the court changed course, rendering Roosevelt’s plan unnecessary, and he dropped it. But the narrative that Roosevelt’s threat was bad policy has prevailed. I think this narrative is wrong. While there is compelling evidence that the court may have changed its mind about the New Deal legislation before Roosevelt made his threat, the threat has achieved its goal. Before Roosevelt, conflict between the Supreme Court and the President was not taboo, and Supreme Court justices were often viewed as important politicians. Charles Evans Hughes, chairman of the Supreme Court when Roosevelt was elected, had been a Republican nominee for president.

AN: What surprised you most about the Supreme Court’s decision on Biden’s forgiveness?

NO: In the end it was a very close decision. While the case has important implications for existing doctrine and for the ability to challenge the provision of government benefits, the case’s publicity has been far less than it could have been and than many commentators had anticipated.

Biden said he will not allow the court to have the final say.

Noah Rosenblum

AN: Some legal experts believe Biden’s second attempt at student debt forgiveness will result in another death in the Supreme Court. Do you predict the same?

NO: From a legal point of view, I think things should be different. The debt relief process under the new plan is longer and more involved, but the Secretary of Education’s authority to cancel debt at the end is clearer than Biden’s first plan. Whether it will be otherwise is another question. Assuming the Biden administration can get its job done, I think the court will have a much harder time overturning Plan B forgiveness. However, I suspect there will be several Republican-appointed judges on the court who will attempt to find a way to invalidate the administration’s actions anyway. And we must remember that the Conservatives currently have six votes and are willing to ignore long-established rule of law in order to push through Republican policy priorities.

AN: Why do you think there is so much pressure on the government to address student debt?

NO: For many years, policies have focused on increased access to higher education as a route to economic mobility, ignoring this growing inequality. The terrible consequences of this political decision are clearly visible. In a society as unequal and unfair as ours, a university degree is no longer a guarantee of a secure financial future. Many Americans now owe thousands of dollars even as they are weighed down by an unfair economic system and are unable to make enough money to pay off the debt, let alone achieve the economic mobility promised to them. The student loan debt system is in crisis, as are many other areas of our economy that are disproportionately hitting the poor, including housing and healthcare.


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Robert Wilson

Business & economics analyst. Breaking down intricate financial trends for informed decision-making.

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