PSL Editorial – Will the Supreme Court bury millions in even more student debt?

The Supreme Court heard arguments today in two related cases that threaten to overturn the student debt forgiveness policy announced by the Biden administration last year. One case was brought by right-wing state governments, and another by notorious right-wing law firm Consovoy McCarthy on behalf of two individual plaintiffs. Their aim is to force the Department of Education to reverse course and attempt to collect in full — a crushing $1.6 trillion debt burden that affects 43.5 million people. 

The administration’s partial forgiveness program erases up to $10,000 in debt, climbing to $20,000 for Pell Grant recipients. This measure was announced in August, after Biden failed to pass his proposed “Build Back Better” social program expansion and right before the critical midterm elections. Even still, this reform fell far short of what activists have been demanding for years — full cancellation of all student debt. It is an outrage that education is treated as a commodity to be bought and sold in the first place, and with interest piling up, many borrowers find themselves paying back vastly more than the already absurdly inflated price of tuition. 

But the right wing would not tolerate any infringement on higher education’s status as a source of profit. This partial debt relief was almost immediately subject to a legal challenge, and quickly made its way to the Supreme Court. A ruling is expected by the end of June.

It is unsurprising that the Supreme Court was the weapon of choice for opponents of loan forgiveness. It is dominated by right-wing corporate stooges who have demonstrated time and again their loyalty to Wall Street. Because they serve lifetime appointments with virtually no democratic oversight, they are less vulnerable to public pressure.

Far from deciding the fate of tens of millions of borrowers, the Supreme Court as an institution should be abolished altogether. It has no legitimacy, no mandate from the people to make decisions that affect the rights of the vast majority of society. And it has abused this power in spectacular fashion in recent years — overturning abortion rights, slashing environmental regulations, and much more while preparing to do the same to affirmative action and the right of unions to strike. 

Capitalism seeks to turn every basic need into a source of profit. Education is a fundamental right to be enjoyed by all, and the capacity and desire to learn is inherent in every human being. But the cost of attending college has skyrocketed. Even after adjusting for inflation, average tuition has tripled in the past 30 years, standing now at $10,740 for in-state students attending public schools. Higher education had become a big business, and the only way to keep bringing in customers was to have them take out massive loans. 

The Biden administration is only seeking to partially cancel debt that is owed to the government itself, but to the most hardline advocates of pro-corporate policies the notion that people could take on debts that would later be forgiven is too dangerous to tolerate. And to deal with this danger — that people will get into their heads that they have a right to an education — they are placing their hopes in the Supreme Court. 

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