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Fight for Student Debt Relief Won’t End With Supreme Court Ruling, AOC Vows

The Supreme Court is expected to hand down its decision on student debt relief any week now.

Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez speaks to reporters at the U.S. Capitol on May 31, 2023, in Washington, D.C.

With the Supreme Court expected to hand down its ruling on student debt forgiveness any week now, Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-New York) is vowing to continue fighting for relief for borrowers even if the Supreme Court strikes it down.

In a press conference with the Congressional Hispanic Caucus on Wednesday, Ocasio-Cortez said that lawmakers in the caucus, as well as the Congressional Black Caucus and Congressional Progressive Caucus, will not take a decision nullifying President Joe Biden’s student debt cancellation plan “lying down.”

“We will not be deterred. We will not be stopped. And we will be resilient and endure in this fight,” Ocasio-Cortez said. “We are prepared in the event of any outcome in this ruling. We are here to fight, and we are here to make sure, and encourage, and have the president’s back, in making sure that this cancellation goes through for the millions of people in the United States whose livelihoods and futures hinge upon this decision.”

She emphasized that, if Biden’s plan were to go through, almost half of student loan debt for Latinx borrowers would be forgiven. Black and Latinx people are more likely than white people to be affected by student debt — a disparity that is adding further fuel to the U.S.’s wide and persistent racial wealth gap.

The lawmaker went on to call for higher education reform.

“Millions of people across the United States are impacted by the crushing debt of student loans. This is a debt that we believe is immoral and is unique in the developed world,” Ocasio-Cortez said. “No other country has the type of system of higher education debt that the United States does. And it is high time that we reconsider how that system works in this country.”

Lawmakers in the Hispanic and Black caucuses called on the Supreme Court to rule to uphold Biden’s plan to cancel up to $20,000 of debt for Pell Grant recipients and $10,000 for all other borrowers who make less than $125,000 in income.

The Supreme Court appears poised to strike down the student debt plan, with at least five of the Court’s conservative justices seeming to be sympathetic to the arguments brought by groups wishing to strike down the plan during arguments in February. The decisions in the cases, Department of Education v. Brown and Nebraska v. Biden, could determine the financial futures of tens of millions of borrowers across the country, who collectively hold around $1.8 trillion in student loans, according to data from the Federal Reserve.

Activists have said that judgements in favor of striking down the plan would essentially be judicial activism and that Biden has the authority to cancel student debt. In May, a report by the Debt Collective and Roosevelt Institute found that the standing — or the very basis for a court to hear a case to begin with — for Republican states’ case against the plan in Biden v. Nebraska is “fundamentally false” and based on a flawed, unproven assumption.

These legal problems could potentially go away if Congress were to authorize a student debt cancellation plan or legislation written explicitly to give the president permission to cancel student loans — a possibility that is exceedingly unlikely, but that lawmakers like Ocasio-Cortez have vowed to fight for anyway.

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