by Mitch Kokai
Senior Political Analyst, John Locke Foundation
Chief Justice John Roberts quoted former House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) in the majority opinion — released on Friday — that struck down President Joe Biden’s student debt cancellation program.
The program, which was designed to forgive up to $10,000 in federal student loans for borrowers whose incomes were below a certain threshold — up to $20,000 if they had been Pell Grant recipients — was ruled unconstitutional by a 6-3 margin, with Roberts saying that the COVID-era HEROES Act did not give Joe Biden the authority to act unilaterally on the issue.
“The Secretary asserts that the HEROES Act grants him the authority to cancel $430 billion of student loan principal. It does not. We hold today that the Act allows the Secretary to ‘waive or modify’ existing statutory or regulatory provisions applicable to financial assistance programs under the Education Act, not to rewrite that statute from the ground up,” Roberts wrote in the majority opinion.
The Chief Justice went on to use a statement made by Pelosi to bolster his point, noting that she had agreed Biden had the authority to make some changes in the time or manner that payments were made, but not to waive them altogether.
“People think that the President of the United States has the power for debt forgiveness. He does not,” she said in July of 2021. “He can postpone. He can delay. But he does not have that power. That has to be an act of Congress.”
Despite her apparent misgivings at the time, Pelosi later appeared to support the plan. In August of 2022, just over a year later, she cheered Biden’s efforts in a tweet, saying, “@POTUS’ bold action is a strong step in Democrats’ fight to expand access to higher education.”