Judging by a string of recent conservative rulings, the U.S. Supreme Court will likely strike down President Joe Biden's student loan relief order, say a number of legal experts.
"The court's conservatives have been very aggressive in striking down the decisions of Congress and the president," Gregory Caldeira, political science professor at Ohio State University, told CNBC. "I would not be surprised if the court invalidated the executive order."
Higher education expert Mark Kantrowitz told CNBC that the high court is "more likely than not" to block the plan.
Biden's plan, first announced in August, has been blocked by two legal challenges, clouding the financial future for millions of American students and graduates.
Biden said in November he was confident the plan is legal, citing the Heroes Act of 2003 which gives the secretary of education authority to waive regulations on student loans in national emergencies. Then-President Donald Trump made an emergency declaration related to the COVID-19 pandemic in March 2020, and it is still in effect.
Biden announced temporary relief for borrowers that may mean their next loan payment is not due until August 2023.
The Supreme Court said on Thursday it would hear Biden's bid to reinstate his plan, after a challenge by six states that have accused his administration of exceeding its authority, in its session which runs from late February to early March.
On Nov. 22, Biden said he would extend the COVID-19 pandemic-era pause in student loan payments until no later than June 30, 2023, to allow the high court to review his administration's requests, which affect loans held by the Department of Education.
Payments will resume 60 days after the pause ends, Biden said.
The Supreme Court has agreed to hear the Biden administration's bid to put on hold a Nov. 14 decision by the St. Louis, Missouri-based 8th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, which granted an injunction request by Republican-led states Arkansas, Iowa, Kansas, Missouri, Nebraska, and South Carolina.
The administration on Friday also asked the justices to put on hold a separate Nov. 10 ruling by a Texas judge appointed by Republican former President Donald Trump that declared the debt forgiveness plan unlawful. The administration did so after the New Orleans-based 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals earlier that week declined to stay the judge's ruling.
The program forgives $10,000 of debt held by the federal government for individuals who make less than $125,000. It also forgives $10,000 of debt for couples that make less than $250,000, and it forgives up to $20,000 of debt held by Pell Grant holders, who are mostly lower-income borrowers.
American voters support debt forgiveness by a narrow margin; about 15% of voters say they could be impacted by the plan, an Economist/YouGuv poll found.
The six Republican-led states that have sued to block Biden's executive order argue that Biden skirted congressional authority and the plan threatens future tax revenues and money earned by state entities that invest in or service student loans.
"The administration is once again invoking the COVID-19 pandemic to assert power far beyond anything Congress could have conceived," lawyers for the six states filing the suit wrote in a brief to the court, noting that the justices had already stopped a White House ban on evictions
Advocacy groups for borrowers countered in their own brief that loan forgiveness is vital to the nation's recovery from the pandemic.
Without it, they said, "working and middle-class borrowers are at substantial risk of default."
U.S. borrowers hold about $1.77 trillion in student debt, according to the latest Federal Reserve figures. The vast majority of that is held by the federal government.
Biden's student loan forgiveness plan could add $300 billion to $600 billion to the federal debt, economists estimate.
Reuters contributed to this report.
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