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Federal Judge Cites James Madison’s Warning About ‘Tyranny,’ Strikes Down Biden’s Student Loan Debt Relief Program as ‘Unconstitutional’

Joe Biden and Education Secretary Miguel Cardona appear in a photo.

U.S. President Joe Biden, joined by Education Secretary Miguel Cardona, speaks on student loan debt in the Roosevelt Room of the White House August 24, 2022 in Washington, D.C.

A federal judge struck down President Joe Biden’s student debt relief program as “unconstitutional,” quoting James Madison to compare it to the type of separation of powers breach that invites “tyranny.”

“In this country, we are not ruled by an all-powerful executive with a pen and a phone. Instead, we are ruled by a Constitution that provides for three distinct and independent branches of government,” U.S. District Judge Mark Pittman, who was appointed by Donald Trump, wrote in a 26-page order. “As President James Madison warned, ‘[t]he accumulation of all powers, legislative, executive, and judiciary, in the same hands, whether of one, a few, or many, and whether hereditary, self-appointed, or elective, may justly be pronounced the very definition of tyranny.'”

The Job Creators Network filed their lawsuit, one of many legal challenges against Biden’s the Higher Education Relief Opportunities for Students Act of 2003 (The HEROES Act), on Oct. 10, 2022, on behalf of two people who did not qualify for the program: Myra Brown and Alexander Taylor.

The named plaintiffs offered a counterintuitive theory as to harm: Neither was eligible for relief, but their legal challenge to the program didn’t seek to reduce their student-debt burden through the program. They sought to torpedo HEROES entirely, arguing that the legislature alone could have passed any relief like it.

“This case involves the question of whether Congress—through the HEROES Act—gave the Secretary authority to implement a Program that provides debt forgiveness to millions of student-loan borrowers, totaling over $400 billion,” Pittman wrote. “Whether the Program constitutes good public policy is not the role of this Court to determine. Still, no one can plausibly deny that it is either one of the largest delegations of legislative power to the executive branch, or one of the largest exercises of legislative power without congressional authority in the history of the United States.”

White House spokesperson Karine Jean-Pierre bemoaned the ruling, which she said resulted from “extreme Republican special interests.”

“We strongly disagree with the District Court’s ruling on our student debt relief program,” she said. “The President and this Administration are determined to help working and middle-class Americans get back on their feet, while our opponents – backed by extreme Republican special interests – sued to block millions of Americans from getting much-needed relief.”

Based in Addison, Texas, the Job Creators Network Foundation attained tax exempt status in 2011, operating for more than a decade as a well-heeled conservative non-profit. The group reported nearly $4 million in revenue in 2020, the year of its last public filings. They regularly pursue Republican causes through the court system. One recent, failed lawsuit against Major League Baseball sought to reverse the league’s decision to move the All-Star Game from Atlanta, Ga., to Denver, Colo., after the passage of a law critics said undermined voting rights in the Peach State.

After the ruling, University of Texas School of Law Professor Stephen Vladeck noted on Twitter that the student debt relief program was already blocked by the Eighth Circuit’s weeks-old administrative stay, but he argued that the ruling would “radically increase” the possibility of Supreme Court intervention.

The high court hearing has previously eluded conservative groups, who were denied relief twice by Justice Amy Coney Barrett.

After the ruling, the Biden administration reportedly stopped accepting applications for the program.

Read the order in full, here.

[Image via by Alex Wong/Getty Images]

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Law&Crime's managing editor Adam Klasfeld has spent more than a decade on the legal beat. Previously a reporter for Courthouse News, he has appeared as a guest on NewsNation, NBC, MSNBC, CBS's "Inside Edition," BBC, NPR, PBS, Sky News, and other networks. His reporting on the trial of Ghislaine Maxwell was featured on the Starz and Channel 4 documentary "Who Is Ghislaine Maxwell?" He is the host of Law&Crime podcast "Objections: with Adam Klasfeld."