President Biden’s plan to erase federal student loan debts for tens of millions of borrowers hit a brick wall Thursday when a U.S. District Court judge in Texas called it unlawful and vacated the debt relief program.
The federal government quickly appealed the decision, which came weeks before student loan payments are set to resume in January. The debt-forgiveness program was already on hold while a federal appeals court in St. Louis considers a separate lawsuit by six states challenging it.
Judge Mark T. Pittman, who was appointed by former President Donald Trump, wrote that the program was a “complete usurpation” of congressional authority by the executive branch. Pittman rejected the Biden administration’s argument that, in a law known as the HEROES Act, Congress had specifically given the president power to erase student loan debts in a time of national emergency and that the COVID-19 pandemic is just such an emergency.
“In this country, we are not ruled by an all-powerful executive with a pen and a phone,” Pittman wrote. “Instead, we are ruled by a Constitution that provides for three distinct and independent branches of government.”