SCOTUS cites remarks from former Speaker Pelosi in striking down Biden's student loan debt cancelation plan

July 1, 2023
Ben Marquis

The Supreme Court on Friday ruled that President Joe Biden's administration lacked the authority to unilaterally enact its plan to cancel broad swathes of federal student loan debt under the limited powers granted to the Education Department by Congress.

In reaching that determination, the court's majority cited a prior statement from then-House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) that only an "act of Congress" could authorize such student loan debt cancelation, Breitbart reported.

Now, of course, Pelosi is singing a different tune and predictably criticized the Supreme Court for taking the exact same position that she herself staked out less than two years ago.

Chief Justice cites former Speaker to reject president's plan

In the majority opinion authored by Chief Justice John Roberts, he explained at length the conclusion reached that the Education secretary had overstepped the limited authority granted to him by the Higher Education Relief Opportunities for Students Act of 2003, or HEROES Act, a 9/11-era law that allowed the secretary to "waive or modify any statutory or regulatory provision" to provide relief to some student loan borrowers during a "national emergency."

In the view of the court, that allowed only for modest modifications or waivers of certain requirements imposed on specific borrowers -- not a wholesale cancelation of approximately $430 billion in debt for an estimated 43 million borrowers, something that only Congress could authorize.

"Congress did not unanimously pass the HEROES Act with such power in mind," Roberts wrote. "'A decision of such magnitude and consequence' on a matter of 'earnest and profound debate across the country' must 'res[t] with Congress itself, or an agency acting pursuant to a clear delegation from that representative body.'"

The chief justice then cited what then-Speaker Pelosi said during a July 28, 2021 press conference: "People think that the President of the United States has the power for debt forgiveness. He does not. He can postpone. He can delay. But he does not have that power. That has to be an act of Congress."

In the end, the majority concluded that "the HEROES Act provides no authorization for the Secretary’s plan even when examined using the ordinary tools of statutory interpretation -- let alone 'clear congressional authorization' for such a program."

Pelosi now singing a different tune

Rep. Pelosi, in a statement issued in response to the Supreme Court's ruling, conveniently ignored how her own words in 2021 were used to support the rejection of an unauthorized and unconstitutional debt cancelation plan that she rightly initially opposed but, wrongly, eventually came around to support under pressure from her party's demanding activist base.

"Today, the Republican supermajority on the Supreme Court cruelly denied more than 40 million Americans deeply needed student debt relief," Pelosi said. "In doing so, the Court allows a crisis of debt to continue holding back families from buying homes, starting businesses and making ends meet."

"Wrongly, the Majority Opinion in this case ignores the convincing arguments on the President’s legal authority that were made in the last year by the Department of Education and by former House Education Committee Chairman George Miller," she continued.

Pelosi added, "President Biden is to be commended for his action to ease the student loan burden, which disproportionately harms women and people of color. Energized by our commitment to equity, justice and opportunity, the fight is not over."

Undeterred Biden lashes out, vows to proceed ahead with plan

As for President Biden, in an angry press conference after the ruling, he sharply criticized Republicans and the Supreme Court for having "blocked" his plan and "snatched away the hope" that he had given to borrowers struggling to pay back their student loan debts.

His White House also announced that the Education secretary fully intended to proceed ahead with the debt cancelation plan, albeit under the purported authority of a different statute -- setting up the distinct possibility that, within the next year or so, the Supreme Court will have to once again remind the Executive branch that it can only do what the Legislative branch has specifically authorized it to do.

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