Arguments in the first case before the Supreme Court — a lawsuit brought by Republican states — over President Joe Biden’s debt relief plan ended about two hours after it began on Tuesday.
The hearing has now moved to a second case, a challenge brought by individuals who sued the scheme. Here’s what stands out so far:
1. Conservative justices see the case as another chance to rein in Biden’s executive actions
Among the questions posed by the conservative judges, they said they believed the case in the Republican states provided another opportunity for the court to delineate when the executive branch can and cannot act without Congress. Some of the exchanges involved the application of what is known as the “big question doctrine,” a legal theory embraced by the court’s Republican appointees that says Congress is empowering agencies to do something of great political or economic significance. States have argued that under that doctrine, Biden’s student debt plan should be blocked.
Chief Justice John Roberts told U.S. Solicitor General Elizabeth Prelogar that the case “raises extremely serious important questions about the role of Congress” and how courts should consider the material question doctrine .
2. Lawyers in Republican states grilled for ‘standing up’
Whether Republican states are threatened with the type of harm that makes court intervention appropriate has been a major theme of the hearings so far. Nebraska Solicitor General James A. Campbell has received a series of questions — from judges on both sides of the ideological spectrum — about whether states have crossed that procedural threshold, known as status.
A particular flashpoint at the hearing was the states’ argument that the loan forgiveness program’s potential harm to MOHELA — the entity created by Missouri to service loans in the state — made Missouri eligible to sue. Several judges noted that MOHELA could have filed a lawsuit challenging the plan but did not do so.
3. Justice Amy Coney Barrett could be a justice to watch
Justice Amy Coney Barrett stands out among conservatives as she asks Republican states particularly tough questions about her standing argument
“If MOHELA is a department of the state, why don’t you stand strong for MOHELA and say you have to pursue this lawsuit,” Barrett asked Campbell, who asked him a few questions about the states’ longstanding claims. Even if Barrett turns to a liberal vote arguing that the lawsuit should be dismissed on longstanding concerns, the Biden administration would still need the vote of another justice appointed by the Republicans.
4. Sotomayor raises real stakes in case
In an extended commentary on Campbell, Judge Sonia Sotomayor set the record straight with the practical impact case.
“There are 50 million students who will benefit from this and they will be struggling today. Many of them don’t have enough assets to save them after the pandemic. They don’t have friends, family or anyone else who can help them with these payments,” she said . These debtors will suffer like no one else because of the pandemic, she added.
“And you’re saying that now we’re going to give judges the power to decide how much aid to give them, rather than a secretary of education who has the expertise and experience to deal with education all the time, and around the issue of student loans,” she said .