Biden DOJ wins transfer of lawsuit challenging student loan rule away from conservative Texas court


Critics have accused conservative opponents of Biden policies of filing their lawsuits in particular divisions in the district, seeking to guarantee they’re heard by a sympathetic judge. The Biden administration, for example, has accused Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton of “judge shopping” in recent cases he’s filed in the district challenging various administration policies.

The lawsuit that Pittman agreed to transfer on Monday was brought by a for-profit college trade association that wants to block a new Biden administration policy that makes it easier for student loan borrowers to have their debts forgiven when they are misled or defrauded by their college.

Career Colleges & Schools of Texas, which filed the case in February, is trying to block the Education Department’s rewrite of federal standards — known as “borrower defense to repayment” — that govern when the agency discharges a student loan based on a college’s misconduct. The group argues that the policy, which is set to take effect July 1, is an illegal and unfair effort by the Biden administration to provide more loan forgiveness to borrowers while sticking colleges with the bill.

In a six-page decision, Pittman rejected arguments by the Austin-based association that it should be able to pursue the case in the Fort Worth division of the Northern District of Texas on behalf of member schools in that area that would be affected by the new policy even though the group itself doesn’t have any office or employees there.

Pittman ruled that connection to the district was too far removed. Career Colleges & Schools of Texas “may have an interest in assisting various burdened parties in the division, but it does not have any presence,” Pittman wrote, concluding that “venue is improper” in his district.

The Biden administration had asked that the case be moved either to Austin where the college group is based or federal district court in Washington, D.C. Pittman ruled that Austin would be the “more appropriate” venue because it still “affords some ‘respect’ to Plaintiff’s original choice of forum — even though it was an incorrect one.”

The Justice Department declined to comment. An attorney representing Career Colleges & Schools of Texas said that the organization would not comment on pending litigation.

The Northern District of Texas is widely seen a one of the nation’s most conservative with GOP appointed judges who have demonstrated a willingness to strike down major Democratic policies.

Pittman, for example, was the judge who first blocked Biden’s sweeping student debt relief program last fall. His colleague Judge Reed O’Connor is a George W. Bush appointee who notably struck down the Affordable Care Act in 2018.

More recently, another judge in the district, Matthew Kacsmaryk, a Trump appointee, authored the controversial ruling earlier this month that overturned the Food and Drug Administration’s decades-old approval of a common abortion pill. That decision is on pause while the Supreme Court hears an emergency appeal.

Josh Gerstein contributed to this report.

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