On Friday, the website where people registered for forgiveness announced the plan had been blocked. “As a result, at this time, we are not accepting applications. We are seeking to overturn those orders,” the notice read. “If you’ve already applied, we’ll hold your application.”
More than 26 million people have already signed up for the program, and 16 million applications have been approved. If an appeal is successful, loan servicers could move forward with discharging their debt.
In August, Biden announced that the government would forgive up to $10,000 in federal student loan debt for Americans making less than $125,000 per year, fulfilling a campaign promise to ease the economic suffering of the millions of people saddled with outstanding debt from loans they took out for school.
According to court documents, the Department of Education was relying on the Higher Education Relief Opportunities for Students Act of 2003, a law that allows the education secretary to “waive or modify any statutory or regulatory provision applicable to the student financial assistance programs” in the event of war, a military operation, or a national emergency.
In invoking the authority provided under the law, Cardona deemed that the relief program warranted a waiver because of the COVID-19 pandemic, which was declared a national emergency by Trump in 2020.
While Pittman agreed that the pandemic did qualify as a national emergency under the act, he questioned whether the law was intended to authorize loan forgiveness. He also said it was “unclear” whether the relief program was necessary and if the pandemic was still, in fact, an emergency.
“Whether the Program constitutes good public policy is not the role of this Court to determine,” Pittman wrote. “Still, no one can plausibly deny that it is either one of the largest delegations of legislative power to the executive branch, or one of the largest exercises of legislative power without congressional authority in the history of the United States.”
An appeals court had temporarily blocked the program last month as it considers a separate case filed by six Republican-led states for an injunction.
BuzzFeed News reporter Anna Betts contributed to this story.