Betsy DeVos Must Testify in Student Loan Forgiveness Lawsuit, Judge Rules

A federal judge has ruled that former Education Secretary Betsy DeVos must testify as part of a class-action lawsuit related to her handling of student loan forgiveness claims while working in the Trump administration.

Judge William Alsup ruled on Wednesday that DeVos, 63, who served as education secretary from 2017 to 2021, will have to testify, writing that "exceptional circumstances" in the case justify a deposition of a former Cabinet secretary.

A deposition from a former cabinet member is rare, and both DeVos and the Biden administration attempted to block the former from having to testify, as she left her position on January 7 in the wake of the Capitol riots.

The class-action lawsuit is being brought by around 160,000 former for-profit college students who applied to the Education Department asking for loan forgiveness during DeVos' tenure, claiming that they were defrauded by their schools.

During DeVos' time in the role, the Trump administration halted final decisions on loan forgiveness claims for 18 months before then dismissing a large number of them with little explanation given to the claimants.

DeVos is no longer a defendant in the case as she has left her position as education secretary, but the lawyers representing the borrowers have claimed that they need to depose the 63-year-old to find answers regarding the decisions she made in relation to the program.

She made a number of policy changes to the program during the 18 months that it was halted, which lowered the number of forgiveness claimants could receive, while enabling the department to dismiss others.

The Trump administration said at the time that it needed to freeze final decisions on the applications so that it could create its own policies for the program.

DeVos' lawyers previously argued that it would be "unnecessary" and "extraordinary" for her to testify, while the Biden administration's policy is that former cabinet secretaries "should generally be immune" from being forced to testify in cases pertaining to their time in office.

The former education secretary previously lost a lower court ruling from Florida to block the subpoena, which brought the case to Alsup to rule on.

The judge ruled on Wednesday that former cabinet secretaries are still subject to the law in the same way as other U.S. citizens.

The judge cited historical precedents, including depositions from presidents Richard Nixon and Bill Clinton, writing in his ruling: "If judicial process runs to presidents, it runs to Cabinet secretaries—especially former ones."

Alsup has set another hearing on the case for June 3 and has given DeVos and the Biden administration two weeks to file an appeal to his Wednesday ruling.

Newsweek has contacted DeVos and the Biden administration for comment.

Betsy Devos student loan forgiveness
U.S. Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos speaks during a White House Coronavirus Task Force press briefing at the U.S. Department of Education July 8, 2020 in Washington, DC. Judge William Alsup ruled on Wednesday that Devos will need to testify as part of a class-action lawsuit related to her handling of student loan forgiveness claims. Alex Wong/Getty Images