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US judge in Texas strikes down Biden loan-forgiveness plan

US judge in Texas strikes down Biden loan-forgiveness plan

A U.S. judge in Texas on Thursday blocked President Joe Biden’s plan to provide millions of borrowers with up to $20,000 apiece in federal student-loan forgiveness — a program that was already on hold as a federal appeals court in St. Louis considers a separate lawsuit by six states challenging it.

District Court Judge Mark Pittman, an appointee of former President Donald Trump based in Fort Worth, said the program usurped Congress’ power to make laws.

“In this country, we are not ruled by an all-powerful executive with a pen and a phone. Instead, we are ruled by a Constitution that provides for three distinct and independent branches of government,” Pittman wrote.

He added: “The Court is not blind to the current political division in our country. But it is fundamental to the survival of our Republic that the separation of powers as outlined in our Constitution be preserved.”

The debt forgiveness plan would cancel $10,000 in student loan debt for those making less than $125,000 or households with less than $250,000 in income. Pell Grant recipients, who typically demonstrate more financial need, would get an additional $10,000 in debt forgiven.

The cancellation applies to federal student loans used to attend undergraduate and graduate school, along with Parent Plus loans.
The 8th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals had put the forgiveness plan on hold Oct. 21 while it considered an effort by the states of Nebraska, Missouri, Iowa, Kansas, Arkansas and South Carolina to block the program.

While the stay temporarily stopped the administration from actually clearing debt, the White House has encouraged borrowers to continue applying for relief, saying the court order did not prevent applications or the review of applications.

White House Press Secretary Karine Jean-Pierre said the administration disagreed with Thursday’s ruling and the Department of Justice had filed an appeal. She said so far 26 million people had applied for debt relief, and 16 million people had already had their relief approved. The Department of Education would “quickly process their relief once we prevail in court,” she said.

“The President and this Administration are determined to help working and middle-class Americans get back on their feet, while our opponents — backed by extreme Republican special interests — sued to block millions of Americans from getting much-needed relief,” she said in a statement.

The legal challenges have created confusion about whether borrowers who expected to have debt canceled will have to resume making payments come Jan. 1, when a pause prompted by the COVID-19 pandemic is set to expire.

Economists worry that many people have yet to rebound financially from the pandemic, saying that if borrowers who were expecting debt cancellation are asked to make payments instead, many could fall behind on the bills and default.

In his order Thursday, Pittman said the Higher Education Relief Opportunities for Students Act of 2003, commonly known as the HEROES Act, did not provide the authorization for the loan forgiveness program that the Biden administration claimed it did.

The law allows the secretary of education to “waive or modify any statutory or regulatory provision applicable to the student financial assistance programs … as the Secretary deems necessary in connection with a war or other military operation or national emergency.”

The administration argued that the student loan relief was thus authorized as a means of dealing with the national emergency of the pandemic. Pittman disagreed, finding that a program of such massive import required clear congressional authorization. The HEROES Act “does not provide the executive branch clear congressional authorization to create a $400 billion student loan forgiveness program,” he wrote.

Pittman also rejected the government’s arguments that the plaintiffs who brought the lawsuit lacked standing. Plaintiffs Myra Brown and Alexander Taylor both have student loans, but Brown is ineligible for debt relief because her loans are commercially held, and Taylor is not eligible for the full $20,000 because he didn’t receive a Pell grant.

The administration said they weren’t harmed by the loan forgiveness program and their “unhappiness that some other borrowers are receiving a greater benefit than they are” did not give them grounds to sue.

Pittman said they were harmed, however, because the government did not take public comment on eligibility requirements for the program, meaning they had no chance to provide input on a program they would be at least be partially excluded from.

Reaction to the ruling was predictably mixed along political fault lines. The Student Borrower Protection Center blasted Pittman as a “right-wing federal judge,” saying “tens of millions of student loan borrowers across the country now have their vital debt relief blocked as a result of this farcical and fabricated legal claim.”

Rep. Virginia Foxx of North Carolina, the ranking Republican on the House education committee, celebrated it.

“Yet another nail has been added to the coffin of President Biden’s illegal student loan bailout, and hardworking taxpayers across the country are rightfully rejoicing,” she said. “This administration continues to operate as if its own self-appointed authority in transferring billions of dollars in student loans is legitimate, but the rule of law says otherwise.”


US Forces Kill Top ISIL leader In Somalia

The US military has carried out an operation in northern Somalia, resulting in the death of a top ISIL (ISIS) leader.

According to a statement released on Thursday by Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin, Bilal al-Sudani, a US-designated ISIL leader in Somalia and “important facilitator for ISIS’s global network,” was killed in the operation.

The operation was approved earlier this week by President Joe Biden and will be carried out on January 25.

“Al-Sudani was responsible for fostering the growing presence of ISIS in Africa and for funding the group’s operations worldwide, including in Afghanistan,” Austin said.

There were no other details about the operation given, including how the US forces carried out the operation or even how many American soldiers were involved. US officials told Reuters news agency anonymously that 10 of al-Sudani’s associates were also killed in the operation.

The US Department of Treasury sanctioned al-Sudani in 2012 for his role in arranging funding for foreign fighters to travel to an al-Shabab training camp.

A Somali government offensive against al-Shabab, which began in August 2022 following Hassan Sheikh Mohamud’s election, has also made substantial gains.

However, the organization, which has been seeking to destabilize Somalia’s government and enforce its strict version of Islamic law since 2007, has retaliated with a series of strikes around the country.

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5 US Police Officers Charged For Murder Of Black Man

Authorities on Friday reported that five dismissed Memphis police officers have been charged with second-degree murder in the brutal beating of Tyre Nichols, a 29-year-old Black man, during a traffic stop.

Ex-Officers Tadarrius Bean, Demetrius Haley, Emmitt Martin III, Desmond Mills Jr. and Justin Smith, who are Black, were charged with second-degree murder, two counts of official misconduct, one count of official oppression.

Rausch said “frankly, I’m shocked. I’m sickened by what I saw. In a word, it’s absolutely appalling. We should not be here. Simply put: This shouldn’t have happened.”

Nichols, a California native who grew up in Sacramento and recently moved to Memphis to work for FedEx was pulled over January 7 and arrested on suspicion of reckless driving, according to Memphis police.

When officers approached Nichols’ car, a confrontation occurred, and Nichols fled the scene on foot, police said.

The police officers pursued Nichols, and another confrontation took place, which led to Nichols’ arrest and subsequent hospitalization, police said.

“He dedicated his whole life to serving his community,” attorney Blake Ballin said.

The Memphis Police Association, the union representing police officers in the city, did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

Nichols’ death reignited public scrutiny of police brutality nearly three years after the murder of George Floyd by a Minneapolis police officer set off nationwide protests and launched the #DefundThePolice movement.

Police departments across the country were put on high alert on Thursday with the announcement of charges against the officers, prepping for potential demonstrations, especially after the Nichols video is released publicly.


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Meta To Reinstate Trump’s Facebook Account

Meta, the parent company of Facebook, has announced plans to end the suspension on the accounts of Donald Trump, former US president.

This is coming two months after Twitter reinstated Trump’s account.

Facebook and Twitter had in 2022  banned Trump indefinitely, with other social media platforms like YouTube and Instagram taking similar actions against him.

In a statement on Wednesday, Nick Clegg, president, global affairs, Meta, said the company would be ending the suspension on Trump’s Facebook and Instagram accounts in the coming weeks.

According to Clegg, the company believes that the public should be able to hear what politicians are saying so they can make informed choices.

He added that new guardrails have been put in place to deter repeat offenses.

“Social media is rooted in the belief that open debate and the free flow of ideas are important values, especially at a time when they are under threat in many places around the world,” the statement reads.

“As a general rule, we don’t want to get in the way of open, public, and democratic debate on Meta’s platforms, especially in the context of elections in democratic societies like the United States.

“The public should be able to hear what their politicians are saying: the good, the bad, and the ugly, so that they can make informed choices at the ballot box. But that does not mean there are no limits to what people can say on our platform. When there is a clear risk of real-world harm, a deliberately high bar for Meta to intervene in public discourse, we act.

“The normal state of affairs is that the public should be able to hear from a former President of the United States, and a declared candidate for that office again, on our platforms.

“Now that the time period of the suspension has elapsed, the question is not whether we choose to reinstate Mr. Trump’s accounts, but whether there remain such extraordinary circumstances that extending the suspension beyond the original two-year period is justified.

“To assess whether the serious risk to public safety that existed in January 2021 has sufficiently receded, we have evaluated the current environment according to our crisis policy protocol, which included looking at the conduct of the US 2022 midterm elections, and expert assessments on the current security environment.

“Our determination is that the risk has sufficiently receded, and that we should therefore adhere to the two-year timeline we set out. As such, we will be reinstating Mr. Trump’s Facebook and Instagram accounts in the coming weeks. However, we are doing so with new guardrails in place to deter repeat offenses.

“In light of his violations, he (Trump) now also faces heightened penalties for repeat offenses — penalties which will apply to other public figures whose accounts are reinstated from suspensions related to civil unrest under our updated protocol.”

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