In an emailed statement, Karine Jean-Pierre, the White House press secretary, said that the administration was “confident in our legal authority for the student debt relief program,” and that it would “continue to fight these baseless lawsuits by Republican officials and special interests.”
Mr. Biden’s plan, announced in August, would cancel $10,000 in debt for those earning less than $125,000 per year and $20,000 for those who had received Pell grants for low-income families. It would be one of the most expensive executive actions in history, with a price tag the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office estimated at around $400 billion.
Since 2010, the Education Department has been the primary lender for Americans who borrow to attend college, and it now owns $1.5 trillion in student loan debt. Under Mr. Biden’s plan, nearly 26 million borrowers have applied to have their federal student loan debt wiped out. The government has already approved 16 million applications, but no debt has been canceled yet because of legal challenges.
The states’ case is widely considered the most serious of multiple lawsuits seeking to stop Mr. Biden’s proposal.
In response to a separate lawsuit, a Texas district court judge struck down Mr. Biden’s action last week, saying it did not have “clear congressional authorization.” That lawsuit was brought by two borrowers who did not qualify for the maximum debt cancellation under Mr. Biden’s plan, which it called “irrational, arbitrary and unfair.”
Right after that ruling, the Education Department stopped accepting applications on its StudentAid.gov website. The department said it was trying to overturn the legal orders blocking debt cancellation.
“If you’ve already applied, we’ll hold your application,” the agency said.
Judge Mark Pittman, of the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Texas, ruled last week that Mr. Biden had overstepped his authority. The Justice Department immediately appealed Judge Pittman’s decision to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit.