Student Loan Forgiveness: Will Student Loan Forgiveness Be Cancelled?

Following a Texas judge’s decision Thursday night, many borrowers took to the internet and asked, “Will student loan forgiveness be cancelled?” according to Google Trends.

WASHINGTON — President Joe Biden’s plan to endow millions of borrowers with up to $20,000 a piece federal student loan decree was blocked by a second federal court, leaving millions of borrowers wondering if they’ll even get debt relief.

On Thursday, US District Judge Mark Pittman ruled that the program usurped the power of Congress to legislate. The administration immediately appealed.

That’s not the only challenge the plan faces. Last month, the 8th US Court of Appeals in St. Louis has temporarily suspended lending while it considers a challenge from six Republican-led states.

The fate of the plan will likely ultimately end up in the Supreme Court, meaning a final decision is a long way off.

Here is the current state of affairs:


The debt relief plan announced in August would eliminate $10,000 in student loan debt for those earning less than $125,000 or households earning less than $250,000. Pell Grant recipients, who typically have higher financial needs, would receive an additional $10,000 in debt relief.

Current college students qualify if their loans are paid off before July 1. The plan would see 43 million borrowers eligible for some debt relief, with 20 million able to write off their debt entirely, the administration said.

The Congressional Budget Office has announced that the program will cost about $400 billion over the next three decades.


The program immediately became a major political issue ahead of the November midterm elections. Republican lawmakers and other conservatives called it an unfair government giveaway to relatively wealthy people at the expense of taxpayers not pursuing higher education.

Biden responded by calling the critics’ outrage “false” and “hypocritical.” He noted that some Republican officials have had their own debt and pandemic relief credits forgiven, but many Democratic lawmakers facing tough reelection battles have distanced themselves from the plan.


Pittman — a representative of former President Donald Trump based in Fort Worth, Texas — made it clear that he felt Biden had exceeded his authority. He said the Higher Education Relief Opportunities for Students Act of 2003, commonly known as the HEROES Act, did not provide the loan forgiveness program approval that the administration claimed it did.

The law allows the Secretary of Education to waive or change the terms of federal student loans in times of war or a national emergency. The government claimed the COVID-19 pandemic created a national emergency.

But Pittman said such a massive program would require clear approval from Congress.

White House press secretary Karine Jean-Pierre said in a statement that the president and his administration are “determined to help working Americans and the middle class get back on their feet.”


In September, the Republican-led states of Nebraska, Iowa, Kansas, Missouri, Arkansas and South Carolina filed suits to stop the program, arguing that the pandemic no longer qualifies as a national emergency. But Justice Department attorney Brian Netter told US District Judge Henry Autrey in October that student loan defaults have skyrocketed over the past 2-1/2 years.

Autrey decided on October 20th that the states lacked standing so that the forgiveness plan could proceed. But the 8th Circuit temporarily halted it the next day while it considers a permanent suspension. This decision is still pending.

The White House encouraged borrowers to continue applying for relief and said the court order did not prevent applications or the consideration of applications.

The plan faced several other legal challenges. In October, Supreme Court Justice Amy Coney Barrett dismissed an appeal by a Wisconsin taxpayer group. A federal judge previously dismissed the group’s lawsuit, finding they did not have the legal right or authority to bring the case.


Pittman’s decision negates the underlying legal argument used to justify Biden’s plan. Previously, the White House was able to evade legal attacks in court cases by tweaking details of the program.

One lawsuit argued that automatic debt forgiveness would result in borrowers in states that impose a tax on forgiven debt paying higher taxes. The administration responded by allowing borrowers to opt out. Another lawsuit alleged that Biden’s plan would harm financial institutions that derive revenue from certain types of federal student loans. The White House responded by scrapping these loans from the plan.

However, the new ruling argues that the HEROES Act does not grant power for mass debt forgiveness. The law allows the Department of Education great flexibility in national emergencies, but the judge ruled that it was unclear whether debt relief was a necessary response to COVID-19, noting that Biden had recently declared the pandemic over.


The legal situation is complicated due to the numerous lawsuits. It is likely that the Texas case and the lawsuit filed by the six states will be challenged in the Supreme Court. Before it reaches that level, the 5th Circuit and 8th Circuit Courts of Appeal – both dominated by conservative judges – will decide each case separately.

The 8th Circuit case could soon end up in the Supreme Court as the six Republican-run states have asked the Circuit Court of Appeals to stay the program while the case rolls. If the Court of Appeals grants that request, the administration will likely ask the Supreme Court to intervene. States could also go to the High Court if their application is denied.

Likewise, the government has signaled that it will appeal the Texas verdict. If the US Fifth Circuit Court is asked to block Pittman’s sentence pending appeal, the losing side could turn to the Supreme Court.

In either case, the appeals courts would not make a final decision on the validity of the program, but rather on whether it can proceed while the challenges continue.

At the same time, emergency orders can signal how courts will ultimately decide a case. In January, the Supreme Court consolidated challenges to the government’s authority to impose vaccination or testing requirements on the country’s major employers. A few days after hearing the arguments, the court divided 6-3 to block the request, saying the challengers were likely to prevail in the end. A separate vaccination mandate for most healthcare workers was allowed when the court concluded a challenge was likely to fail.


Borrowers are confused about whether their debt will be forgiven or whether they will have to make payments again on Jan. 1 when a pause caused by the COVID-19 pandemic is due to expire.

Following the Texas judge’s ruling Thursday night, borrowers took to the internet and asked Google, “Will student loan forgiveness be cancelled?” according to Google Trends. Total search traffic for “student loan forgiveness” quadrupled Thursday night and had increased nearly tenfold by Friday morning. according to Google Trends data.

Brenna Zimmerman, who graduated from Kansas State University in 2021 with about $30,000 in debt, said she wasn’t surprised the program was blocked.

“I don’t think I really meant it that it would ever come to fruition,” said the 24-year-old graphics coordinator at a packaging company. She called the debt relief “a little too good to be true. More of a political stunt than anything that would ever happen.”

Although the program would benefit her, Zimmerman wondered if it was a good idea.

“I think I’d be a fool not to apply, but I don’t know either. I don’t think it’s necessarily fair, especially to people who have made a choice not to go to school,” Zimmerman said.

“This is devastating,” said Melissa Byrnes, an organizer and student debt relief advocate who is a defaulting federal borrower. “I am devastated for borrowers. What has happened is that the wealthy don’t want struggling students, lower and middle classes to be able to benefit from and share in the wealth these systems have created for them.”

The White House said 26 million people have applied for debt relief and 16 million people have already had their debt relief approved. The Department of Education would “process your appeal expeditiously once we win in court,” she said.

AP journalists Mark Sherman and Collin Binkley in Washington; Gene Johnson in Seattle; Heather Hollingsworth in Mission, Kansas; Chrissie Thompson of Spokane, Wash.; and Cheyanne Mumphrey of Phoenix contributed to this report. Student Loan Forgiveness: Will Student Loan Forgiveness Be Cancelled?

Laura Coffey

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