President Joe Biden’s student debt relief plan is facing yet another legal challenge after a Wisconsin organization filed a lawsuit challenging Biden’s proposal in part on the grounds that it includes an “improper racial motive,” as the White House is about to roll out the application process.
The suit filed by the Brown County Taxpayers Association on Tuesday alleges that Biden’s plan, which would forgive up to $20,000 per borrower, violates the 14th Amendment’s equal protection clause.
“By creating and implementing a federal program with an improper racial motive, Defendants violated the Constitution’s guarantee of equal protection of the laws, which among other things, prohibits federal spending based on race,” states the lawsuit, which was obtained by The Washington Post.
The White House said the plan would “advance racial equity” when it unveiled the action in August.
“Black students are more likely to have to borrow for school and more likely to take out larger loans,” the White House fact sheet about the plan stated, adding that “Black borrowers are twice as likely to have received Pell Grants compared to their white peers.”
The White House also cited an Urban Institute study that showed tailoring measures to graduates who were awarded Pell Grants would help make progress on racial equity.
But the Brown County Taxpayers Association took issue with what it described as an “explicit racial motivation” on the part of the administration. It also said the plan violates the constitutional separation of powers by usurping “the constitutional authority of Congress” and the Administrative Procedures Act, which mandates how federal agencies develop and issue regulations.
Biden’s plan, though, does not award debt relief based on a graduate’s race. The proposal says student loan borrowers making up to $125,000 are eligible for $10,000 in debt relief, while Pell Grant recipients are eligible for $20,000. The White House has also extended the freeze on student loan payments until January.
The mission of the Wisconsin group bringing the legal action includes promoting “individual freedom and citizen responsibility; limited government that is fiscally responsible, transparent, and accountable to the people; and economic policy that encourages free markets.”
The suit names Biden, Education Secretary Miguel Cardona, the department’s office of Federal Student Aid and its chief operating officer, Richard Cordray, as defendants.
The White House previously said it would release the application to the student loan forgiveness action early this month.
Asked whether the numerous lawsuits the plan has been faced with are delaying the release of the application, press secretary Karine Jean-Pierre on Tuesday did not offer a direct answer, saying the Department of Education would be the one to share details on the “implementation process.”
Jean-Pierre added the plan would cover about 40 million Americans.
“It’s a shame that you have Republicans out there — Republican groups, Republican states — that are trying to stop Americans from getting a little bit of a breathing room, a little bit of a break,” Jean-Pierre told reporters.
Last week, six Republican-led states sued the administration to block the plan from going into effect, arguing Biden does not have the authority to execute the debt relief plan.
Frank Garrison, an Indiana-based lawyer working with Pacific Legal Foundation, a libertarian group in California, also sued to block the action, claiming he would “face immediate tax liability” as a result of the debt relief, according to Axios. But a judge denied his motion for a temporary restraining request — after the Justice Department clarified the Education Department will allow those granted automatic debt relief to opt out — giving Garrison until Oct. 10 to amend the complaint.
The Department of Education has also tightened eligibility criteria for student debt relief, saying those with privately owned federal student loans can no longer apply for the student loan forgiveness.