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Ocasio-Cortez: Student Debt Decision Shows SCOTUS Rulings Are “Up for Sale”

“This SCOTUS’s corruption undercuts its own legitimacy by putting its rulings up for sale,” wrote Ocasio-Cortez.

Student debt relief activists participate in a rally at the U.S. Supreme Court on June 30, 2023, in Washington, D.C.

After the far right Supreme Court struck down President Joe Biden’s student debt relief plan on Friday, activists almost immediately gathered behind two rallying calls: one, that Biden can and must still cancel student debt, and two, that the Supreme Court is illegitimate.

The conservative justices’ decision, which rested on a fringe far right legal theory, yanks $430 billion in relief away from the roughly 40 million borrowers who were slated to benefit from the plan. It was handed down in the wake of two other consequential rulings, regarding affirmative action and LGBTQ rights, that will erode peoples’ rights and restrict access to higher education.

“Today the corrupt Supreme Court broke the law and shredded the Constitution,” wrote the Debt Collective.

Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-New York) tore into the decision on Friday, pointing out that Justice Samuel Alito, who ruled with the majority, has a potentially substantial conflict of interest in the case, but ruled on it anyway.

“Justice Alito accepted tens of thousands of dollars in lavish vacation gifts from a billionaire who lobbied to cancel the student loan forgiveness. After the gifts, Alito voted to overturn,” Ocasio-Cortez wrote. “This SCOTUS’s corruption undercuts its own legitimacy by putting its rulings up for sale.”

Government watchdog Accountable.US also pointed out that the Supreme Court’s opinions siding with Republicans wishing to overturn student debt relief and with an anti-LGBTQ plaintiff backed by a far right hate group were a direct result of decades of judicial manipulation by “conservative kingpin” Leonard Leo — a man who has had a hand in the nomination of every conservative justice currently on the bench.

“Today’s opinions by an extremist Court are just the latest in Leonard Leo’s decades-long agenda to erode democracy and roll back Americans’ rights,” said Kyle Herrig, Accountable.US senior advisor. “It’s no surprise that the extremist lawyers and groups involved in these devastating decisions have close ties to Leo’s influence network. That’s how Leo works.”

The Debt Collective, Ocasio-Cortez, and many other advocates are reigniting their calls for Biden to take further action on student debt.

“The Supreme Court just shamefully decided that the bottomline of a student loan servicer is more important than 43 million Americans’ ability to get the student debt they were already approved for,” Braxton Brewington, Debt Collective spokesperson, told Truthout in an email. “There’s no reason the Supreme Court should have the last word here. President Biden should use any and all other legal tools at their disposal to deliver relief to hard-working families so they can continue putting food on the table, saving for retirement and affording their rent or medication.”

Advocates have laid out several actions they say Biden could legally take, including canceling all student debt by executive order or invoking the Higher Education Act.

“It is very important to note this SCOTUS ruling does NOT remove Biden’s ability to pursue student loan forgiveness. The Biden Admin can use the HEA (Higher Ed Act) — our position from the start — to continue loan forgiveness before payments resume. They should do so ASAP,” wrote Ocasio-Cortez, pointing out that the Department of Education has used a similar authority before to wipe out debt that hasn’t been overturned by courts.

“We still have the power to cancel and must use it, or we’re looking at an economic crisis for millions of people,” the lawmaker concluded. Indeed, many borrowers have said that they will either be unable to make payments once they restart in October or they will have to reduce spending in other areas, taking money out of the already fragile economy.

Others also reignited calls for Supreme Court reform after the decision. “Expand the court,” said Rep. Rashida Tlaib (D-Michigan).

After the decision, Biden pledged that the “fight isn’t over,” and that he will announce additional steps for student debt relief on Friday afternoon.

But advocates were highly skeptical of that claim, pointing out that Biden has failed to meet the urgency of situations regarding student debt and the far right Supreme Court time and again; Biden’s initial plan for student debt forgiveness was already radically scaled down from what advocates have been saying is needed to free borrowers of the collective $1.7 trillion in student loan debt owed by borrowers across the country.