Student Loans & Separation of Powers

A good illustration of how the separation of powers works can be found in the fight over student loan forgiveness.

Under the Constitution, the President is obligated to execute the laws passed by Congress. Article II, Section 3 of the Constitution requires the President to “take Care that the Laws be faithfully executed.” Presidents sometimes issue executive orders on their own, but these must also be consistent with existing laws. (See our short courses on emergency powers and executive orders.)

Thus, fundamentally, the argument over student loan forgiveness centers on whether the Office of the President is acting constitutionally within the law.

The federal court system can decide such matters when a citizen or a state brings a legitimate complaint. And that’s where things can get a little confusing. The Supreme Court ruled that a complainant cannot challenge the constitutionality of a law unless they can show they are or will soon be harmed by the law. If not, the court will rule that the complainant “lacks standing” to bring the complaint and will dismiss the case without deciding for or against either side.

There is a solid reason for requiring complainants to have “standing.” Without it, the federal courts would have to rule on all sorts of ideological lawsuits that would ultimately transform the Supreme Court into a body of nine unelected legislators.

To learn more about the separation of powers and why they matter, see our short course here.

Image: The U.S. Congress with the Supreme Court behind it.

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