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NCC Condemns SCOTUS Decision to
Strike Down Student Loan Debt Relief Program

Friday, the U.S. Supreme Court struck down President Biden’s student loan debt forgiveness plan in Biden v Nebraska. Under the program, millions of Americans—more than half of all student loan borrowers—are eligible for up to $20,000 in debt forgiveness. The plan seeks to cancel roughly $430 billion in debt.

In this case, the Supreme Court agreed with Nebraska and five other states that argued the Secretary of Education does not have authority under the Higher Education Relief Opportunities for Students Act of 2003, to diverge from provisions in the Higher Education Act of 1965 that allow the Secretary of Education to reduce or cancel student loans in limited circumstances, such as war and national emergencies, by waiving and modifying aspects of the federal financial aid programs. The Court asserted the Biden Administration did not waive, or modify relevant provisions of the Higher Education Act of 1965, but rewrote it. “Our precedent—old and new— requires that Congress speak clearly before a Department Secretary can unilaterally alter large sections of the American economy,” Chief Justice John Roberts said.

Last November, the Department of Education extended the pause on student loan repayment until the Supreme Court handed down its decision in June, or 60 days after June 30, 2023, whichever came first. During debt ceiling negotiations, President Biden and House Republicans reached an agreement to uphold the administration’s temporary extension on student loan payments through August 30, 2023. However, the bill Congress passed, and President Biden signed into law (the Fiscal Responsibility Act of 2023), gave Congress express authority on the issue and prohibits the Secretary of Education from using, “any authority to implement an extension of any executive action or rule,” to extend the pause of student loan repayments in the future.  

In response to the Supreme Court’s decision, President Biden issued a fact sheet doubling down on the administration’s efforts to provide debt relief to borrowers. Acting on his authority under the Higher Education Act of 1965, the Secretary of Education has developed a new rulemaking process that will be an “alternative path” to student loan forgiveness, finalized a repayment plan, launching this summer, that will result in no monthly payments for most borrowers and $1,000 in annual savings for some, and a 12-month “on-ramp” for repayment that will prevent borrowers from facing delinquency or default from missed student loan payments.

The National Council of the Churches of Christ in the USA condemns the Supreme Court’s ruling in  Biden v NebraskaIn the United States, education is key to success, a pathway to financial freedom and stability. According to scripture, “the rich rule over the poor, and the borrower is the slave of the lender (Proverbs 22:7, NRSVue).” The American Dream should not come at the unbearable cost of a lifetime of debt that prevents people from building generational wealth to lift themselves out of poverty through homeownership and other means.

The Court’s decision places a heavy burden on millions of Americans who are struggling to make ends meet, especially younger Americans who are newly navigating the harsh realities of our society. NCC applauds the Biden Administration for using the tool at their disposal to provide relief to those most in need. As the details of this new program emerge, we urge our member communions to share the information with constituents and interested parties.

NCC Vehemently Opposes SCOTUS Ruling on
Affirmative Action Programs at Harvard and UNC

On Thursday, the U.S. Supreme Court issued its ruling on affirmative action programs at Harvard and the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill (UNC) in Students for Fair Admissions v President and Fellows of Harvard College.

According to the high court, the admissions process at both institutions violated the Fourteenth Amendment’s equal protection clause and was unconstitutional. The majority opinion held that the affirmative action programs lacked specific, measurable objectives that justify the use of race, negatively used race by denying some applicants admission because of their race, racially stereotyped applicants, and did not have a foreseeable end. On the other hand, the Court said that colleges and universities can consider, “an applicant’s discussion of how race affected his or her life, be it through discrimination, inspiration, or otherwise,” in which case the school must credit the benefit to a trait other than race, such as courage, or determination.

While the Supreme Court’s decision is somewhat narrow in scope and focuses on the admission process at Harvard and UNC, as well as schools with similar programs, it will have far-reaching implications for institutions of higher learning, and higher education broadly, that are yet unknown. The ruling would make it extremely difficult, if not impossible, for schools to consider race in their admissions process to promote diversity.

The Court’s majority opinion rejected the dissenting view that remedying the effects of past societal discrimination through affirmative action programs is constitutional. The ruling did not discuss whether institutions of higher education could correct their past discriminatory practices and policies through affirmative action programs or other forms of reparative justice. 

The National Council of the Churches of Christ in the USA (NCC) released a statement vehemently opposing the Court’s decision to eliminate the consideration of race and ethnicity from the college admissions process.

NCC reaffirms the commitment made by the National Council of Churches in 1997 to encourage our member denominations and ecumenical agencies to continue support of and advocacy for effective affirmative action programs, statutes, policies, and practices; to speak out against retrogressive legislative and other attempts to rescind or weaken affirmative action statutes on municipal, state ,or federal levels; to align themselves with others of good will to defeat anti-affirmative action initiatives constructed to “turn back the clock”; and, to encourage members to exercise their constitutional and civil responsibilities fully in helping to defeat these and other assaults on productive affirmative action programs.