By Nate Raymond
(Reuters) -A federal judge in Texas on Thursday ruled that President Joe Biden's plan to cancel hundreds of billions of dollars in student loan debt was unlawful and must be vacated, delivering a victory to conservative opponents of the program.
U.S. District Judge Mark Pittman, an appointee of former Republican President Donald Trump in Fort Worth, ruled in a lawsuit backed by the Job Creators Network Foundation on behalf of two borrowers.
The debt relief plan had already been temporarily blocked by the St. Louis-based 8th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals while it considers a request by six Republican-led states to enjoin it while they appealed the dismissal of their own lawsuit.
Biden's plan has been the subject of several lawsuits by conservative state attorneys general and legal groups, though plaintiffs before Thursday had struggled to convince courts they were harmed by it in such a way that they have standing to sue.
Pittman in a 26-page ruling wrote that the HEROES Act - a law that provides loan assistance to military personnel and that was relied upon by the Biden administration to enact the relief plan - did not authorize the $400 billion student loan forgiveness program.
"The Program is thus an unconstitutional exercise of Congress's legislative power and must be vacated," Pittman wrote.
The White House and representatives for the plaintiffs did not respond immediately to requests for comment.
The non-partisan Congressional Budget Office in September calculated the debt forgiveness would eliminate about $430 billion of the $1.6 trillion in outstanding student debt and that over 40 million people were eligible to benefit.
The plan, announced in August, calls for forgiving up to $10,000 in student loan debt for borrowers making less than $125,000 per year, or $250,000 for married couples. Borrowers who received Pell Grants to benefit lower-income college students will have up to $20,000 of their debt canceled.
(Reporting by Nate Raymond in Boston; Editing by Sandra Maler and Rosalba O'Brien)