New policy aims to ease student loan burden

The American Bar Association House of Delegates recently approved about 30 wide-ranging measures, among them a resolution urging the federal government to implement programs to assist law graduates and law students experiencing financial hardship due to their student loans.

The one-day meeting of the 597-member ABA policy making body, known as the HOD, concluded the virtual ABA 2021 Midyear Meeting, which began Feb. 17.

The policy proposals enable the ABA to lobby legislators and file amicus briefs in these policy areas.

Advocates for the student loan modifications in HOD Resolution 106C said that even before COVID-19 slowed the U.S. economy, many young lawyers struggled with their student loans given the legal profession’s uncertain job market and their high student debt.

Studies have shown recent law graduates carry an average of about $145,000 in student debt, while last summer the National Association for Law Placement reported that 49 percent of the law schools surveyed stated employers had rescinded employment offers and many other offers were pushed into 2021.

The new policy recommends extending loan repayment terms, allowing either refinancing or transferring of obligations to federal from commercial programs, and authorizing suspension or forgiveness of student loans in certain situations.

A companion resolution that urged Congress to amend the U.S. bankruptcy code to ease restrictions on how student loans can be discharged in bankruptcy proceedings was withdrawn by the sponsor, the Young Lawyers Division, because of objections raised by other ABA entities.

Other new policies are geared to help lawyers and law students better manage their well-being and family life, particularly during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Resolution 300A encourages stakeholders in the legal profession to make resources accessible that advance well-being.

Resolution 300B seeks government and other entities to provide adequate funding to ensure access to fair, affordable and high-quality childcare and family care as well as other resources for school-age children.

During debate, two measures drew verbal opposition, but both passed. Resolution 101A urges that governmental entities allow specially trained facility dogs to assist victims and vulnerable witnesses in any stage of the criminal justice system. It passed 202-135.

Resolution 107C asks the Department of Defense to declare that HIV status alone should not disqualify a person for military services. ABA military-oriented entities sought to delay its passage to strengthen the resolution, but it passed 237-117.

Other resolutions approved by the House include:

• 10E, which endorses the federal Daniel Anderl Judicial Security and Privacy Act of 2020, or similar legislation to prohibit the disclosure of personally identifiable information of current and former federal judges and other jurists. The proposed federal law follows the assassination of a son of a federal judge in New Jersey last year.

• 10F, which urges governmental entities to establish law enforcement officer training and implement guidelines to minimize implicit bias in giving exit orders during discretionary traffic enforcement stops where the officer has safety concerns or a reasonable suspicion of criminal activity.

• 10D, which supports an interpretation of the Fourth Amendment of the U.S. Constitution that would preclude application of the border-search exception to travel to or from a U.S. territory, such as the Virgin Islands, from the 50 states and the District of Columbia.

• 103B, which asks the U.S. Department of Justice and the attorney general to withdraw certain AG opinions related to criminal records and U.S. immigration law and replace them with opinions that are consistent with congressional intent, the U.S. Constitution and U.S. treaty obligations.

• 107B, which urges states to adopt both certain principles in administering elections for U.S. president and that if a dispute arises as to the proper recipient of the electoral votes for a state, Congress should give controlling effect to the winner of the popular vote for that state unless a state allocates electoral votes by congressional district as two do.

• 111, which asks that governmental units bar the possession and display of firearms by civilians in and around locations, such as state capitols, critical to the legislative function of government.

• 113, which re-asserts that governmental entities take all necessary steps to use total population, including minors and non-citizens, in redrawing electoral district lines after the decennial census to achieve equality of population of districts as required by U.S. constitutional law.

The House also approved a change in its Rules of Procedure to add the requirement that future resolutions must advance one or more of the ABA four goals.  

Unified state bar associations, among others, had raised concerns about past HOD resolutions for lacking  focus and being non-germane to the practice of law.