The Relvance of Precedents

Posted by Anthony Castelli.

President Joe Biden was aiming to put in place a $400 billion student loan forgiveness plan to assist students who were struggling during the COVID-19 pandemic. Though this plan seemed appealing to middle class families who were struggling during the pandemic, nine Supreme Court Justices did not seem very convinced with the plan’s productiveness, which made them consider two legal challenges towards this plan. While the Supreme Court challenged the Act, President Biden’s Solicitor General Elizabeth Prelogar, who represented the Biden administration, changing the entire dynamic of the case. Many experts believed that the Biden administration’s case had been lost, but once Elizabeth Prelogar took her stance, many people switched sides. She first introduced the fact when the student loan forgiveness plan was being rolled out in August of 2021, there was a law that set a precedent where people with debt were not going to be in a worse position than they were if a national emergency took place. This specific law was known as the Heroes Act of 2003. “That law, which is a product of the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks, allows the U.S. Secretary of Education to ‘waive or modify’ student loan programs to ensure borrowers aren’t left worse off because of a national emergency.” (CNBC).
Based upon this precedent, it is clear that these borrowers are still owed this money because of the fact that they were already in debt before the pandemic. Since the pandemic only worsened peoples’ financial situations, this money is still owed to them because of the student loan forgiveness plan. While Justice Clarence Thomas fought back questioning “How does that fit under the normal understanding of ‘modifying’?” (CNBC), Prelogar responded by explaining how the central focus of this plan was to not let people who are borrowing money, especially students, suffer even further financially due to a national emergency such as the pandemic. Ever since her testimony regarding the purpose of the plan, Prelogar has been showered with praise from various education experts, and is even believed to have won over the majority opinion of the Supreme Court justices. One notable person who praised Prelogar was Jed Shugerman, a Fordham Law professor, who wrote, “She may have snatched victory from the jaws of defeat.” (CNBC).
To conclude, the central reason that I chose to summarize this news article is because it truly explains and exemplifies the relevance that precedents hold in the court of law. Precedents can make or break a case, and in this case, it appears to have broken it from the perspective of opposers who wished to take down the bill. As we have learned in class, precedents act as an example of cases to follow when similar arise in the current day. Since the precedent of the Heroes Act of 2003 was established, it is hard to combat the notion that the case of the student loan forgiveness plan is different enough to the point that it cannot be comparable. It will be interesting to see what the final verdict of this case will be, but regardless of result, this case still proves just how compelling precedents can prove to be.

Anthony is a business major at the Stillman School of Business, Seton Hall University, Class of 2025.