California leaders were among those on Friday decrying the Supreme Court's ruling that does away with the Biden administration's intent to forgive portions of borrowers' student loan debts across the nation. But now, Biden says they will use the Higher Education Act to do something similar.
"“I think the court misinterpreted the Constitution," Biden said of the 6-3 decision, in which Chief Justice John Roberts invoked the so-called "major questions doctrine," which the Roberts court has used repeatedly in addressing issued linked to the government's handling of the COVID pandemic.
"Today’s decision has closed one path. Now we’re going to pursue another," Biden said in remarks from the White House Friday. Biden included both Republicans and Republican-appointed Supreme Court justices in his criticism, noting in particular that some Republican members of Congress received PPP loans during the pandemic that were wholly forgiven, yet they're against forgiving student loan debt.
"The hypocrisy is stunning," Biden said.
Without being very specific, Biden said he had directed Secretary of Education Migeuel Cardona to begin the process of using the 1965 Higher Education Act to provide student debt relief in other ways. The Education Department will "compromise, waive or release loans under certain circumstances," he said, and once payments resume this fall, borrowers will be given leeway to ramp up their payments for 12 months and they won't be reported to credit agencies during that time, presumably if payments are missed.
As the New York Times notes, "Some people had proposed that the Biden administration use the Higher Education Act to grant student debt relief before the administration instead used the pandemic emergency law to do so." Those included Senator Elizabeth Warren.
Warren put out a statement Friday, saying, "The same Supreme Court that overturned Roe now refuses to follow the plain language of the law on student loan cancellation. This fight is not over. The President has more tools to cancel student debt — and he must use them. More than 40 million hard-working Americans are waiting for the help that President Biden promised them, and they expect this administration to throw everything they’ve got into the fight until they make good on this commitment."
California Senator Alex Padilla said on Friday that he was "frustrated and disappointed" but "not surprised" by the ruling. "For the second time in two days, an extreme conservative majority on the Supreme Court has chosen to block progress and make life harder for everyday Americans whose path to a better life runs through a college campus.
"The dreams of too many students are limited by their parents' paychecks, and the promise of higher education is too often closed to students of color," Padilla added.
California Attorney General Rob Bonta said in a statement that more than 3.5 million student debtors in California "have been hung out to dry" by the ruling.
Average student-loan indebtedness nationwide is $37,000, but it's even higher among San Francisco residents, as the Chronicle reports. They cited data from the Student Borrower Protection Center which shows that more than 92,000 people in SF — 13.2% of all adults — owe student debt that averages $45,240.
Speaking to the Chronicle, UC Berkeley graduate Destiny Iwuoma pointed to the grossness of recent revelations that Justices Alito and Thomas have been, for years, accepting lavish gifts and trips from billionaires without disclosing them.
"We’ve seen a few Supreme Court justices take lavish sums of money from private parties, and these are the same people saying we can’t cancel student debt because of a technicality," Iwuoma said. "Student debt fuels the racial wealth gap. Canceling student debt works to create an equitable playing field — particularly for students of color."
Top image: U.S. President Joe Biden is joined by Education Secretary Miguel Cardona (L) as he announces new actions to protect borrowers after the Supreme Court struck down his student loan forgiveness plan in the Roosevelt Room at the White House on June 30, 2023 in Washington, DC. In a 6-to-3 decision, the court ruled the loan forgiveness program -- which was projected to help 40 million people and cost $400 billion -- was unconstitutional. (Photo by Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images)