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Biden v. Nebraska and Dept. of Education v Brown both involve challenges to President Biden’s student debt relief plan. 

In the first, Nebraska and five other states sued, alleging that Biden doesn’t have authority under federal law to cancel student debt. 

The Biden administration invoked the HEROES Act as its basis for the debt cancellation. That law allows changes to student loan programs in the wake of terrorist attacks or other national emergencies. 

The states argue that nothing in the law allows the cancellation of debt, only the modification of programs. They also invoke the newly-minted “major questions doctrine” which is purported to be a principle that courts should be more skeptical of an agency’s interpretation of a major question. 

The Brown case involves a group of people who have non-federal student loans. (The program only covers federal ones so these people get no relief under the program.) 

The main question in the two cases is whether anyone has Article III standing, that is, whether anyone has a stake in the case sufficient enough to allow them to sue. 

In the first case, Biden argues Nebraska and the states have no standing because several of the states suggest that they’ll lose tax revenue as a result of this program, but it’s those states’ decision to use the federal definition of gross income that leads to that result. And a “self-inflicted” injury can’t lead to standing. The only arguable candidate for standing, according to the administration, is a student loan entity created in Missouri called MOHELA. And, as long as one party has standing, a case can move forward. The administration argues though that MOHELA doesn’t have standing because it’s a corporation separate from the state and it declined to participate in this lawsuit in any way. 

The non-federal loan plaintiffs in the Brown case argue that they can’t benefit from this program and that a judgment eliminating it would require the Biden administration to try to create a broader student loan cancellation program that would include these plaintiffs. But the Biden administration argues that there can’t be any favorable relief for the plaintiffs in this case: if they win, all that will happen is there would be a federal court injunction wiping out the student loan forgiveness program for everyone. On the merits the plaintiffs argue that the administration 1) didn’t follow proper procedure and 2) couldn’t have enacted this plan anyway because they claim it isn’t justified by the text of the HEROES Act. The administration disagrees: the HEROES Act says nothing about a procedure and the text and history confirm that the law is on point for this type of program in response to the national emergency of COVID-19.

*Argued: 2/28/2023
More information on Biden v. Nebraska can be found here. 
More information on Dept. of Education v Brown can be found here.