Conservative Justice Brett Kavanaugh rules states can't sue the government just over 'indirect' harm from a federal policy. One of the lawsuits blocking Biden's student-debt relief involves 6 states doing exactly that.

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  • Justice Brett Kavanaugh authored a new opinion that ruled two states didn't have standing to sue the government.

  • It's the second case led by a conservative justice that scrutinizes a state's standing to sue.

  • One of the cases blocking Biden's debt-relief was brought by six GOP-led states.

Conservative Justice Brett Kavanaugh just ruled against two states' standing to sue the federal government. There's a similar issue in one of the lawsuits seeking to block President Joe Biden's student-loan forgiveness.

On Friday, Kavanaugh authored an opinion in the case United States v. Texas, in which Texas and Louisiana sued the Department of Homeland Security and accused it of violating federal law for prioritizing some non-US citizens who entered the country illegally for arrest and deportation over others. The Supreme Court ruled 8-1 that the states lack standing to bring the suit, with Justice Sam Alito as the lone dissent.

Standing is a legal burden every plaintiff must prove before a court can even consider whether the policy being challenged is illegal. To prove standing, plaintiffs must show that they'd be injured by the policy, that the injury can be directly traced back to the defendant, and that the relief they're seeking would address those injuries.

"This bedrock constitutional requirement has its roots in the separation of powers," Kavanaugh wrote in the opinion. "So the threshold question here is whether the States have standing to maintain this suit. Based on this Court's precedents and longstanding historical practice, the answer is no."

It's an issue that was raised repeatedly during oral arguments for the two lawsuits that paused the implementation of Biden's plan to cancel up to $20,000 in student debt for federal borrowers: US Department of Education v. Brown and Biden v. Nebraska. The latter case was filed by six Republican-led states who argued the debt relief would hurt their states' tax revenues and the revenue of student-loan company MOHELA — and while the states' lawyer argued that the state has an "authority to assert its interests," some of the justices weren't so sure.

"I feel like we really do have to be concerned about jumping into the political fray unless we are prompted to do so by a lawsuit that is brought by someone who has an actual interest," Justice Ketanji Brown Jackson said during February oral arguments. "So this is why I'm sort of pressing really hard on the standing point."

And Kavanaugh indirectly addressed the states' concerns of lost tax revenue in his US vs. Texas ruling on Friday, writing that "States sometimes have standing to sue the United States or an executive agency or officer."

"But in our system of dual federal and state sovereignty, federal policies frequently generate indirect effects on state revenues or state spending. And when a State asserts, for example, that a federal law has produced only those kinds of indirect effects, the State's claim for standing can become more attenuated," he wrote. "In short, none of the various theories of standing asserted by the States in this case overcomes the fundamental Article III problem with this lawsuit."

Kavanaugh's opinion was, of course, only responding to the Texas case and there was no reference to the pending student-debt relief cases. But it's a clear sign on how the high court is handling questions around standing in lawsuits brought on by states challenging a federal policy. Justice Amy Coney Barrett similarly authored an opinion last week in the case Haaland v. Brackeen, in which the court decided by a 7-2 ruling that Texas did not have standing to challenge the Indian Child Welfare Act.

"The bottom line is that we reject all of petitioners' challenges to the statute, some on the merits and others for lack of standing," Barrett wrote, adding that "that should make the issue open and shut."

The Supreme Court is expected to issue a final decision on the legality of Biden's student-loan forgiveness plan by the end of June.

Read the original article on Business Insider