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Missouri Group's Claim to Standing in SCOTUS Debt Relief Case Based on False Claim of Harm

In August 2022, President Biden announced his plan to cancel up to $10,000 of student debt for those who make less than $125,000. Student debtors who received Pell Grants are eligible for an additional $10,000 of relief. President Biden invoked the 2003 HEROES Act to issue this plan, with the purpose of making sure that student debtors are not in a worse position financially as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Over 43 million borrowers are poised to benefit from the president’s student debt relief plan. However, last fall, six Republican attorneys general sued to stop student debt cancellation, claiming that canceling debt would cause entities in their state to lose money. Now, in Biden v. Nebraska, the Supreme Court is deciding the fate of student debt relief, and the bottom line of a student loan servicer, the Higher Education Loan Authority of the State of Missouri (MOHELA), is being directly counterposed to millions of borrowers’ financial survival.

The lawsuit did not go through the normal procedure. Rather, it was heard as part of the Supreme Court’s granting of “certiorari before judgment” (Bouie 2022)—that is, taking on a case before lower courts have issued final judgments, making it less likely that “the factual and legal issues have been resolved to the maximum extent possible” (Vladeck 2022). The frequent issuance of certiorari in the past few years has troubling implications for the Supreme Court’s exercise of power. It’s considered emblematic of the rise of the “shadow docket,” a collection of orders and decisions the court issues without full briefing or explanation (Baude 2015Vladeck 2019).

In this case, after a George W. Bush-appointed district court judge dismissed the lawsuit against student debt relief, the Eighth Circuit issued a national injunction, effectively stopping the administration from canceling any student debt until the case is resolved. However, instead of being heard by the Eighth Circuit, which would have forced the plaintiffs to verify the factual basis of their claims, this case skipped directly to the Supreme Court.

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