Judge decides DeVos must testify in student loan forgiveness lawsuit
The Trump administration stopped making final decisions on student borrower claims – known as borrower defense claims – for at least 18 months, then quickly dismissed large swathes of claims with little explanation provided to each borrower. The Trump administration has said it needs the time to set policy and make reasoned decisions on borrower claims.
The program freeze came as DeVos was taking a series of policy measures aimed at reducing the amount of debt relief that defrauded borrowers can receive under the program. She criticized the Obama administration’s more permissive approach to approving loan forgiveness requests as allowing students to dip into the government’s “free money”.
Alsup had previously ruled that there was a “strong demonstration” that the Trump administration had lied about its real reason for actually shutting down the program, and then rejecting so many refusals.
In his 12-page ruling on Wednesday, Alsup said those questions about the credibility of the Trump administration’s explanations and the “sparse” documentation of its decision-making were among the “extraordinary circumstances” that warranted DeVos’ testimony.
Alsup also said it was clear that DeVos was personally involved in the decisions regarding student loan forgiveness applications. Previous depositions from other senior education ministry officials still left “material gaps” on the record, Alsup wrote, because those officials said they did not know who made the decision to suspend the program. .
Both DeVos and the Biden administration had asked the judge to block the subpoena for his testimony.
DeVos’ personal attorney had argued that it would be unduly onerous and unprecedented for her to testify in the trial. The Biden administration’s position is that former cabinet secretaries like DeVos should generally be immune from having to answer sworn questions about their official actions while in government service.
But Alsup argued that Cabinet secretaries are still subject to the law. He cited a series of historic precedents for top executive officials being forced to respond to subpoenas, including President Richard Nixon due to return White House tapes over the Watergate scandal and the President Bill Clinton to sit for a deposition in the Paula Jones. prosecution for sexual harassment which ultimately led to his dismissal.
“If the court process goes to presidents, it goes to cabinet secretaries – especially elders,” Alsup wrote.
Alsup put his order on hold for two weeks to allow an appeal of his decision. He also set another hearing in the case for June 3.
Separately, DeVos has asked the Georgia-based 11th Circuit Court of Appeals to intervene to block the subpoena after a three-judge panel of the court rejected his request earlier this month. DeVos in this case is appealing the decision of a lower Florida court that sent the summons fight to Alsup in California in the first place.