Judge Elena Kagan on Friday criticized her conservative colleagues’ decision to invalidate President Joe Biden’s student loan debt relief plan, suggesting they had put politics before law on a matter they «didn’t have to decide.» .
«The Court’s first overreach in this case is to decide it,» Kagan wrote in his dissent of the 6-3 ruling, where it said states that challenged the policy had no legal standing to do so.
“Under Article III of the Constitution, a plaintiff must have standing to challenge a government action. And that requires a personal interest, an injury in fact. We do not allow plaintiffs to sue just because they oppose a policy,” he wrote.
«The plaintiffs in this case are six states that have no vested interest in the Secretary’s loan forgiveness plan. They’re classic ideological plaintiffs: They think the plan is a very bad idea, but they’re no worse off because the Secretary differs. By «Give those States a forum, by adjudicating your complaint, the Court forgets its proper role. The Court acts as if it were an arbitrator of policy and political disputes, rather than cases and controversies,» Kagan wrote.
As a result, «this Court decides today that some 40 million Americans will not receive the benefits provided by the plan.»
She said it is not, or should not be, the role of the high court to set policy.
“Policy judgments, under our separation of powers, are supposed to come from Congress and the President. But they do not do so when the Court refuses to respect the full scope of the delegations that Congress makes to the Executive Branch. When that happens, the Court becomes the arbiter, indeed the maker, of national policy,” he wrote, adding that “it is not a proper role for a court. And it is a danger to the democratic order.”
Much of Kagan’s dissent, which was endorsed by Justices Sonia Sotomayor and Justice Ketanji Brown Jackson, centered on the majority’s conclusion that Missouri had the right to challenge the law.
The state claimed it was being hurt by the loan forgiveness plan because it meant the Missouri Higher Education Loan Authority, which Kagan described as «a state-created corporation that participates in the student loan market,» would charge less fees.
However, Kagan noted that the authority is «a legally and financially independent public corporation» and that its losses will not be passed on to the state. She said the agency had the power to sue but did not, and that Missouri should not have standing because it would not be harmed by the loan forgiveness program.
“By our usual rules, that separation would matter, in fact, it would decide this case,” Kagan wrote.
«By adjudicating Missouri’s claim, the majority is stepping in to decide a matter it does not have to decide. It breaks down a constitutional barrier meant to keep courts acting like courts,» he wrote, adding that by deciding the case, the court superior «exercises authority that it does not have. It violates the Constitution.»
Kagan also took aim at the logic of her colleagues in rejecting the Biden administration’s arguments that the loan forgiveness plan was legal under a 2003 law called the Higher Education Student Relief Opportunity Act, or HEROES Act.
The law says the government can provide relief to student loan recipients when there is a «national emergency,» allowing it to act to ensure that people are not «in a worse financial position» as a result of the emergency. Chief Justice John Roberts said the HEROES Act’s language was not specific enough and that precedent «requires Congress to speak clearly before a departmental secretary can unilaterally alter large swathes of the American economy.»
Kagan responded that «Congress could have wanted the Secretary (of Education) to have broad discretion during emergencies to offer relief to student loan borrowers. In fact, Congress wrote a statute that said the same thing. And the Secretary acted.» under that statute in a way that holds the President whom he serves to political accountability: the judgment of the voters. But none of that is enough. This Court objects to Congress allowing the Secretary (and other agency) answer the so-called leading questions. Or at least object when the answers given do not satisfy the Court. So the Court puts its own heavyweight thumb on the scales.»
Majority opinion «departs from demands for judicial restraint. At the behest of an uninjured party, the majority decides a controversial public policy issue that properly belongs to the politically responsible powers and the people they represent.»