Personal Finance

Supreme Court decision on student loan forgiveness expected Friday

Key Points
  • Within 24 hours, student loan borrowers are likely to learn the fate of the Biden administration's debt forgiveness plan.
  • The Supreme Court is expected to issue its decision Friday, which could be the last day of its term before it breaks for summer recess.
Visitors with signs regarding student loan payments outside of the US Supreme Court in Washington, DC, US, on Tuesday, June 27, 2023.
Al Drago | Bloomberg | Getty Images

The Supreme Court's term is almost over and the justices still haven't issued a decision on President Joe Biden's plan to cancel up to $20,000 for tens of millions of Americans. But the ruling is almost certain to come out Friday, experts say.

"I would expect it then, absent some very unusual circumstances," said Amy Howe, a co-founder of Scotusblog.

Jed Shugerman, a law professor at Fordham University and Boston University, agreed, saying it was "almost certain" that the justices will issue the rest of their decisions Friday before they break for their summer recess.

"The justices preserve July and August for getting out of town," he said.

There is only a small chance that the justices add another decision day next week or request more time with this case.

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Borrowers should be able to read the ruling on the Supreme Court's website, likely sometime Friday morning.

The other big decision expected tomorrow, 303 Creative Inc. v. Elenis, involves a Colorado web designer who objects to providing services for same-sex marriages.

What's at stake in loan forgiveness decision

The justices' ruling will determine whether the Biden administration can move forward with its plan to wipe out more than a quarter of the country's $1.7 trillion in outstanding federal student debt.

Roughly 14 million people would have their student debt entirely cleared by the program, according to an estimate by higher education expert Mark Kantrowitz.

In total, around 37 million people would be eligible for some loan cancellation, Kantrowitz estimates — up to $20,000 if they received a Pell Grant in college, a type of aid for low-income families, or as much as $10,000 if they did not.

Shortly after Biden announced his plan, the legal challenges piled up. The program has now faced at least six lawsuits from Republican-backed states and conservative groups, most of which accuse the president of executive overreach.

Two of those legal challenges made it to the Supreme Court: one brought by six GOP-led states — Arkansas, Iowa, Kansas, Missouri, Nebraska and South Carolina — and another backed by the Job Creators Network Foundation, a conservative advocacy organization.

Justices consider executive authority to cancel debt

In the cases, the justices examined whether Biden has the power to forgive so much student debt without authorization from Congress. And at an estimated cost of $400 billion, the policy would be among the most expensive executive actions in U.S. history.

Biden officials insist that he's acting within the law, pointing out that the Heroes Act of 2003, which is a product of the 9/11 terrorist attacks, grants the U.S. secretary of education the authority to make changes to the federal student loan system during national emergencies. The country was operating under an emergency declaration due to Covid-19 when the president rolled out his forgiveness plan.

The plaintiffs trying to block forgiveness say the president is incorrectly using the law, which they argue allows only for narrow applications of relief and not the kind of across-the-board loan cancellation the president wants to deliver.

What's at stake as the Supreme Court weighs student loan debt forgiveness
The almost $2 trillion student debt relief battle

The justices also considered whether the plaintiffs suing the Biden administration had successfully shown they'd be harmed by the president's policy, which is typically a requirement to gain the right to sue. The need to prove so-called legal standing is designed to prevent people from suing against different policies and programs simply because they disagree with them.

Multiple justices, including some of the conservatives, seemed unconvinced during oral arguments that the plaintiffs had proven injury, Shugerman said. As a result, although most pundits expect forgiveness to be struck down given the high court's conservative majority, there is still a possibility for it to survive.

For now, Kantrowitz said to borrowers, "Hold tight."