Protesters camped outside the Supreme Court as members prepared to hear oral arguments regarding a plan from the Biden administration to cancel student debt for millions of individuals.
The policy, which would nix $10,000 in student loans per borrower earning salaries less than $125,000 as well as $20,000 per borrower who received Pell Grants, was enacted via executive order last fall. Individuals in favor of the policy, including many college students, reportedly protested at the Supreme Court on Monday evening and Tuesday morning.
“I really, really care about student debt, not even just for myself,” 20-year-old Amanda Smitley, a sophomore at PennWest California equipped with an umbrella and an aluminum blanket, said in an interview with CNBC. “I want to live in a world where my future students and maybe future kids won’t have to worry about getting into thousands in debt just because they want to further their education.”
John Runningen, a 22-year-old who owes $5,000 from his education at Minnesota State Community and Technical College, added that the debt has presented him with financial obstacles. “It’s stopped me from getting a vehicle, from moving out of my parents’ house and helping my parents with the stress of their bills,” he told CNBC. “To some people it might not seem like a lot of money, but for rural communities or those that are poverty-stricken, it’ll be the difference between me being able to give my family food or able to afford an electricity bill.”
Justices heard arguments in two cases against the student loan cancellation policy, one which was filed by six Republican attorneys general and another which is backed by the Job Creators Network Foundation. The latter entity, a conservative advocacy organization, contends that the policy violates the notice-and-comment processes mandated by the Administrative Procedure Act, while the attorneys general objected to the administration’s use of a policy that was intended to grant the Department of Education “specific waiver authority” to ensure relief for “members of the United States military” involved with the conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan.
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The Republican officials likewise pointed to the Supreme Court’s recent opinion in West Virginia v. EPA, which said that federal agencies cannot assert “highly consequential power beyond what Congress could reasonably be understood to have granted.”
Left-wing lawmakers such as Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-VT), Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-MA), and Rep. Ilhan Omar (D-MN) spoke to protesters gathered at the Supreme Court on Tuesday. “This is a righteous fight,” Warren told the crowd, according to a report from the Washington Examiner. “And we cannot let a Supreme Court that is an extremist court take away the opportunity for millions of Americans to have a little racial justice, a little economic justice, a little opportunity to build more secure futures going forward.”
Skeptics of the Biden administration’s student loan policy observe that the overall cost of the debt cancellation could surpass $400 billion, according to an estimate from the Congressional Budget Office. Another report from the Brookings Institution noted that one-third of student debt is owed by the wealthiest quintile of households, while less than one-tenth is owed by the bottom quintile, likely because advanced degrees are often necessary for lucrative professions.
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