On the evening of Friday, October 21, 2022, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Eighth Circuit put a halt—albeit a potentially temporary one—to the Biden Administration’s federal student loan forgiveness program, which had been scheduled to result in loan cancellation for at least some student borrowers only two days later, on October 23.
The administrative stay was the result of an emergency application by the Republican state attorneys general of six states (Missouri, Arkansas, Nebraska, Iowa, Kansas, and South Carolina), whose challenge to the loan forgiveness plan had been dismissed the day before by a federal judge for lack of Article III standing. Federal standing doctrine requires a plaintiff to show it has suffered a concrete and particularized harm that is actual or imminent, traceable to the defendant’s challenged actions, and likely to be redressed by judicial action. In this instance, the district court observed that the state attorneys general had raised “important and significant challenges to the debt relief plan,” but concluded that they had failed to establish an imminent and non-speculative harm sufficient to establish standing.
The Eighth Circuit’s administrative stay will prohibit the Biden Administration from discharging any federal loans until the appellate court has received expedited briefing from the parties on the question of whether a lengthier injunction pending appeal—one that could last months—is warranted. To obtain such an injunction, the attorneys general must demonstrate a likelihood of success on the merits, a likelihood of irreparable injury in the absence of an injunction, the absence of substantial harm to other interested parties if an injunction is granted, and the absence of harm to the public interest if an injunction is granted. The Biden Administration is likely to contend that none of these elements are satisfied.
The Administration’s opposition to the injunction motion is due today, October 24, and reply briefing by the attorneys general is due tomorrow, October 25. The court is expected to issue a ruling on the injunction request soon thereafter.