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US judge in Texas blocks President Biden's student debt forgiveness plan; appeal filed

A U.S. District Court in Texas blocked President Joe Biden's student loan forgiveness program late Thursday on the grounds that the administration didn't have the authority to act. 

The Biden administration has already filed an appeal.

The fresh injunction is in addition to a block from the Eighth U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, which put the program on hold nearly three weeks ago while it considered a separate lawsuit brought by six states challenging the program and the president's authority to act. 

The Texas case was brought by the conservative-leaning Job Creators Network Foundation, which describes itself as "a nonpartisan organization founded by entrepreneurs who believe the best defense against bad government policies is a well-informed public." The ruling by the district court isn't temporary; the judge calling the program unlawful, going further than the injunction in the Eighth Circuit.

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"In this case, the HEROES Act – a law to provide loan assistance to military personnel defending our nation – does not provide the executive branch clear congressional authorization to create a $400 billion student loan forgiveness program," wrote the judge in the case, Mark Pittman, who was appointed by former President Donald Trump. "The Program is thus an unconstitutional exercise of Congress’s legislative power and must be vacated."

The administration has said it can offer far-reaching loan forgiveness under a 2003 law that allows for such measures during national emergencies. In this case, that emergency is the pandemic.

"The Court is not blind to the current political division in our country," the opinion continues. "But it is fundamental to the survival of our Republic that the separation of powers as outlined in our Constitution be preserved. And having interpreted the HEROES Act, the Court holds that it does not provide 'clear congressional authorization' for the Program proposed by the Secretary."

Student loan debt forgiveness applications can't be filed, for now

White House press secretary Karine Jean-Pierre said in a statement that the Justice Department filed an appeal.

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"We will never stop fighting for hardworking Americans most in need – no matter how many roadblocks our opponents and special interests try to put in our way," Jean-Pierre said, adding that the Education Department will hold on to the information that 26 million borrowers provided to the department so it can quickly process their relief once it prevails in court. However, the agency is, at least for now, no longer accepting new applications

The Job Creators Network Foundation, which was suing on behalf of two borrowers, one who wouldn't have benefited from the plan and one not eligible for the maximum amount, and who couldn't offer feedback, praised the ruling, noting that the cancellation doesn't address why so many people carry student loan debt.

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"This attempted illegal student loan bailout would have done nothing to address the root cause of unaffordable tuition: greedy and bloated colleges that raise tuition far more than inflation year after year while sitting on $700 billion in endowments," said Elaine Parker, president of Job Creators Network Foundation. "We hope that the court’s decision today will lay the groundwork for real solutions to the student loan crisis."

At least 26 million people have applied for one-time student loan debt relief under a plan the president announced in August, and 16 million of those applications have been approved. 

"Amidst efforts to block our debt relief program, we are not standing down," Education Secretary Miguel Cardona said in response to the ruling.

The program would cancel $10,000 in student loan debt for those making less than $125,000 a yea or households with less than $250,000 in income. People who received Pell Grants in college would have another $10,000 in debt forgiven.

'Lawless ruling':Politicians react after court blocks Biden's student debt forgiveness pla

"Despite this lawless ruling from a Trump-appointed judge, @POTUS’ legal authority to cancel student debt is clear," Democratic Sen. Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts tweeted in response to the ruling. She has been among the leading advocates for  loan forgiveness.