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Supreme Court justices question ‘fairness’ in student debt relief arguments

On Tuesday, the Supreme Court heard oral arguments in two cases that will decide the fate of President Biden’s $400 billion student debt relief program.

Video transcript

SAMUEL ALITO: What is your client's view about the fairness question that some people have posed and that was reiterated for you by the chief justice?

ELIZABETH PRELOGAR: The view of the department is that this is it warranted.

SAMUEL ALITO: Why is it fair? Why is it fair? If he didn't have to do it, why is it in the answer to say that it was warranted. Maybe it was warranted, but why was it done?

ELIZABETH PRELOGAR: I guess you don't want to answer the question. It was fair because in the absence of this relief, it's undisputed that there are going to be millions of student loan borrowers who are not going to be able to pay their student loans who are going into default and delinquency. And the Heroes Act was specifically designed for this situation. This is Congress telling the Secretary you don't have to let that happen. And when we have this kind of a pandemic that requires this kind of relief, I think that the Heroes Act is operating right within its domain.

SAMUEL ALITO: I'll try one more time. Why was it fair to the people who didn't get arguably comparable relief? Now, it may be that their interests were outweighed by the interests of those who were benefited, or they were somehow less deserving of solicitude, but what is your answer to that question?

ELIZABETH PRELOGAR: My answer to that question is that Congress has already made the judgment, that when there is a national emergency that affects borrowers in this way, the secretary can provide relief. And you could make this critique of every prior exercise of Heroes Act authority. There too you could say, well, that only benefits the specific, enumerated, affected individuals, but it's Congress who defined those individuals, and the Secretary acted properly here in giving them relief.