Hundreds of demonstrators rallied in front of the Supreme Court Tuesday morning in support of student debt cancellation as the bench heard oral arguments concerning President Joe Biden’s ability to dismiss millions of dollars in student loans.
During Tuesday’s oral arguments, the Court’s conservative majority voiced skepticism that the President’s loan forgiveness program was legal and had sufficient congressional authorization, but the Court’s three liberal justices suggested Congress’ passing of the 2003 Higher Education Relief Opportunities for Students Act provided such authorization. Protesters at the rally said they are doubtful that the program will survive the lawsuit, but they are hopeful for future efforts to cancel student debt.
Biden announced his loan forgiveness program last August, which would cancel up to $20,000 in debt for Pell Grant recipients and $10,000 for others. About 29 percent of GW undergraduate students received federal loans in the 2020-21 academic year. During the 2021-22 academic year, about 55 percent of undergraduate students received federal loans, with 23 percent rejecting their offers.
In late September, six states – Nebraska, Missouri, Arkansas, Iowa, Kansas and South Carolina – filed a lawsuit against the president on the grounds that his plan violated separation of powers and the Administrative Procedure Act.
Junior Kayla Laws, the president of the GW chapter of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, said she went to rally Tuesday to support students grappling with student debt by spreading awareness about the student debt crisis through protests and calling on GW students to get involved.
“Personally, I don’t suffer from student debt,” Laws said. “I’ve been fortunate, but I feel like coming out here to support others is necessary.”
Laws said it’s important to bring people together through rallies like Tuesday’s to increase education and awareness about issues impacting Black communities.
On average, Black college graduates owe about $25,000 more in student loans than their white counterparts, according to a study done by the Education Data Initiative.
“I hope that the Supreme Court comes to their senses,” Laws said.
Sen. Elizabeth Warren, D-MA, told The Hatchet she thinks Biden’s authority to cancel student debt should be “clear” to the Supreme Court.
“The Supreme Court needs to get out of the way, stop playing politics and apply the law, in which case we’ll get student debt cancellation,” Warren said.
Gabriel Garcia, a senior at Rutgers University, said as a student loan borrower, he thinks it’s “very unlikely” the President’s student loan forgiveness program will survive the lawsuit after seeing the conservative court majority overturn the decades-old Roe v. Wade decision last year. He said Tuesday’s rally made him optimistic about student loan forgiveness legislation with members of Congress in attendance in addition to hundreds of student protesters.
“I’m confident that, even if Biden’s program does not make it through the Supreme Court battle, there will still be at least some push in terms of legislation, at the very least,” Garcia said. “Just seeing all the support and seeing the support of the people and all the support of representatives in Congress.”
Garcia said the student government at Rutgers is attempting to keep students informed about the debt relief plan by tabling to increase awareness about options available for students with federal loans.
“So even just being informed and knowing that this is a thing goes a very long way,” Garcia said.
Rep. Maxwell Frost, D-FL, told The Hatchet the looming anxiety of student debt was a factor in his decision to not finish college, and he said he’s doubtful that the Court will uphold the president’s debt relief plan given its conservative majority. He said Tuesday’s protest set a tone of “joyful resistance,” which he said is vital in rallies demanding change from political leaders.
“I’m hopeful, but, like I said, we haven’t seen this court give us great decisions as of lately,” Frost said. “We have to be ready to continue to fight and I am too.”
Frost said Congress is doing “nothing” to fight against student debt. He urged others to learn about the issue and join protesters in pressuring lawmakers to support the debt relief plan.
“That’s why we need members to be here,” Frost said. “Working with people in the outside game so we can pressure the administration to do what needs to be done.”
Rep. Pramila Jayapal, D-WA, said she hopes the hearings highlighted the stories of students who are currently struggling with student debt and who would feel relief with the establishment of Biden’s plan.
“I want the Supreme Court to understand what this means and what COVID has meant to people who are already struggling,” Jayapal said in an interview. “It’s put them in a place where they will never be able to recover, and it’s our job to help them.”
Jayapal said she hopes to see legislation that cancels student debt in the future, and she said she’s currently a co-sponsor on legislation that will attempt to achieve that goal. She said despite the Supreme Court hearing, she considers Biden’s plan to be a “huge accomplishment,” and a step in the right direction towards alleviating student loans.
“And I think that’s the movement’s success, and that’s part of what I wanted to tell the crowd here today,” Jayapal said. “It doesn’t matter, in a way, what happens because they have already been part of moving the needle so far, and I really believe we’re gonna get this done.”
This article appeared in the March 2, 2023 issue of the Hatchet.