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Justice Thomas Was Still Paying Off Student Loans When He Joined SCOTUS

  • The Supreme Court will hear two challenges to Biden’s student loan debt relief plan on Tuesday. 
  • In 2007, Justice Clarence Thomas wrote about the “crushing weight” of student debt in his own life. 
  • The ruling could impact the economic fate of millions of US student loan borrowers. 

Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas was still paying off his student loans when he joined the High Court in 1991. 

In his 2007 memoir “My Grandfather’s Son,” Thomas, the court’s longest-serving justice, spoke of the “crushing weight” of student debt from his time at Yale Law School. He recalled how his only option to afford his final years at Yale was to sign up for a tuition postponement option where a group of students would pay off their loans together, with the highest income paying the most.

“I didn’t know what else to do, so I signed on the dotted line, and spent the next two decades paying off the money I’d borrowed during my last two years at Yale,” Thomas wrote of the experience. Thomas graduated from the school in 1974. 

However, it’s unclear how much of this experience will factor into Thomas’ opinion as the Supreme Court hears two challenges to President Joe Biden’s student loan forgiveness plan on Tuesday.  

In August, Biden announced plans to cancel up to $20,000 in student debt for federal borrowers making under $125,000 a year. However, the plan has been met with pushback from Republicans and has been put paused due to several lawsuits aiming to block the plan. 

The Supreme Court will hear arguments to the cases on Tuesday and will make a final ruling likely in June, which would impact the lives of millions of student loan borrowers including the 20 million borrowers that the White House estimates would have their balances completely wiped out. 

Thomas wrote in his memoir that a law student once even suggested he apply for bankruptcy to get out from under the “crushing weight” but he turned down that idea. Thomas wouldn’t repay back those loans until his mid-40s and several years into his role as a justice, The Associated Press reported. 

“One student pointed out that I was eligible for public assistance and food stamps, since I had little income and no support from my family Another suggested that I declare bankruptcy after graduating in order to get out from under the crushing weight of all my student loans (a loophole that has since been plugged),” Thomas wrote. 

Notably, getting rid of student debt through bankruptcy has been difficult for borrowers to achieve due to the high hardship standards needed to discharge the loans. Biden’s Education Department has begun reforming the process to make it easier, but right now, the main focus is the president’s broad debt relief plan. 

Amid Republican pushback calling the broad debt relief plan unfair and illegal, Democratic lawmakers and Biden have maintained confidence in the president’s authority to cancel student debt for 40 million Americans, and it remains to be seen if the conservative-majority Supreme Court will follow the conservative lower courts’ rulings to block the relief, or allow it to be implemented. 

“The lower courts’ orders have erroneously deprived the Secretary of his statutory authority to provide targeted student-loan debt relief to borrowers affected by national emergencies, leaving millions of economically vulnerable borrowers in limbo,” Biden’s Justice Department wrote in a brief to the Supreme Court.

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