The plaintiff in a lawsuit seeking to overturn President Joe Biden’s student debt forgiveness program has herself been a beneficiary of debt cancellation, in the form of a Paycheck Protection Program business loan worth over twice the maximum amount covered under Biden’s program.
Myra Brown, one of two plaintiffs in the Texas lawsuit, owns Desert Star Enterprises Inc. Desert Star, which appears to be a sign-making business, was granted a $48,000 loan, of which $47,996 was forgiven on April 27, 2022. By comparison, Biden’s student debt forgiveness program provides a maximum of $20,000 in forgiveness if the person seeking relief received a federal Pell Grant and $10,000 if it wasn’t a Pell Grant. Brown argues in her case that she is being harmed by Biden’s debt relief order because she is not eligible for it; her student loans were originally funded by private companies.
Brown’s case is one of a flurry of right-wing lawsuits aimed at ending Biden’s student debt forgiveness program. Though many have been dismissed due a lack of standing, this one has not. A Donald Trump-appointed judge, Mark T. Pittman of the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Texas, has indicated he wants to fast-track it.
Student debt relief advocates say the lawsuits are astroturf efforts by right-wing political organizations. “These sham lawsuits are blatantly manufactured by billionaire-funded right-wing organizations whose only purpose is to play dirty politics,” Braxton Brewington, spokesperson for the Debt Collective, told The Intercept. “These plaintiffs aren’t actually harmed by student debt cancellation, they’re simply willing to be political pawns for dark-money groups who will do anything to prevent working people from having financial breathing room.”
When The Intercept contacted Brown for comment, she responded via text message with a picture of a printout reading “we have no comment” and directing any inquiries to the Job Creators Network, a conservative advocacy organization bankrolling the lawsuit. The Job Creators Network was founded by the co-founder of Home Depot, Bernie Marcus, and funded by the conservative Mercer Family Foundation.
“The Paycheck Protection Program is not comparable to Biden’s bailout,” Elaine Parker, president of the Job Creators Network, told The Intercept. “Congress passed PPP, making it a legal program; Biden bypassed Congress, making it illegal. PPP was an emergency measure to help small businesses survive government-imposed lockdowns. PPP was always designed to be forgiven if certain parameters were met.”
The Intercept also promptly received an email from TJ Winer, who identified himself as an employee of the Job Creators Network Foundation, from an email address bearing the domain name CRC Advisors, a crisis communications firm. CRC’s top funder is the Federalist Society, the powerful conservative legal group whose members include all six conservative Supreme Court justices — many of whom the Federalist Society advocated for and helped shepherd their appointments; Pittman, the federal judge presiding over this case, is himself vice president and a founding member of the Tarrant County Federalist Society.
In 2019, CRC found itself in hot water over its attempts to clear then-Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh of sexual misconduct allegations by Christine Blasey Ford. After working with conservative legal activist Ed Whelan to float claims of a doppelganger Blasey Ford mistook for Kavanaugh, Whelan retracted the claims and apologized for what he called “an appalling and inexcusable mistake of judgment.”
Advocates of student debt relief have criticized the hypocrisy of business owners who are comfortable with debt relief for their own companies but not for students. “Like the Republican members of Congress who took out PPP loans while denouncing student borrowers seeking relief, Myra Brown believes in ‘debt relief for me but not for thee,’” Brewington told The Intercept. “This hypocrisy only underscores the cynical motives of the plaintiffs and the baselessness of their case, which should be dismissed.”
In August, Biden took a swipe at Georgia Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene, saying, “I find it absolutely fascinating that some of the folks who are talking about, ‘This is big spending,’ are the same people that got $158,000 in PPP money including the, what’s her name, that woman who believes in the — anyway.” The White House’s official Twitter account later called out Greene by name, clarifying that the figure was actually a bit higher: $183,504 in PPP loans forgiven.
Brewington also called on Biden to use additional authorities to block these types of lawsuits. “Instead of letting student debt relief be subverted by these bad-faith actors and Trump-appointed judges, President Biden should use his compromise and settlement authority to cancel student debt, thereby pulling the rug out from under these bogus lawsuits and delivering on his promise,” he said.
Pittman is one of 200 Trump-appointed federal judges, a group that includes nearly as many appeals court judges as Barack Obama appointed in both his terms. Given Pittman’s right-wing associations, student debt relief proponents are concerned that his conservative bent could lead to the case being upheld. This summer, Pittman struck down a Texas law banning people under age 21 from carrying handguns, citing “founding-era history and tradition.”
Correction: November 11, 2022
The article originally stated that the Job Creators Network was founded by the CEO of Home Depot. It was founded by Home Depot’s co-founder, Bernie Marcus.