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August 10, 2021

ABA House adopts policy to ease bankruptcy burden for student loans among wide-ranging decisions

CHICAGO, Aug. 10, 2021 – The American Bar Association House of Delegates concluded its two-day meeting today after approving new policy that asks Congress to enact legislation to amend the U.S. Bankruptcy Code to permit student loans to be discharged in bankruptcy without needing to prove undue hardship.

The HOD, as the 597-member policy-making body is known, also adopted policy that urges all individuals, governments and organizations to support the U.S. Department of Interior’s Indian Boarding School Initiative and the Truth and Healing Commission. The new federal effort partners with tribal nations and organizations to investigate the extent for which the United States established forced boarding schools to eradicate Indigenous culture, similar to an effort ongoing in Canada.

Advocates for the student loan policy, which was approved 251-71, said the change could help thousands of young lawyers grappling with a challenging job environment and as much as $145,000 or more in student loans. They also noted that a recent survey by the ABA Young Lawyers Division showed that more than 75% of young lawyers surveyed were straddled with significant student loans and have modified life milestones because of their debt situation.

The federal government’s investigation in atrocities involving Indigenous people, which Resolution 801 embraced, seeks to gather information on possible unmarked graves at boarding school facilities in the United States, and on the decades of institutionalized, federally funded cultural assimilation that has led to a host of negative outcomes for survivors and their families, from mental health issues to the loss of entire communal generations

The new ABA policy emerged this summer concurrent with media reports, mostly from Canada, that found that authorities more than a century ago engaged in efforts to assimilate and “civilize” Indigenous children through the eradication of tribal culture. Then-ABA President Patricia Lee Refo spearheaded the resolution after visiting the Navajo Nation on July 12, and tribal leaders asked for ABA assistance in their efforts to determine what occurred in this country.

By 1909, according to the report accompanying the resolution, there were more than175 boarding schools and more than 300 day schools in the United States alone. Debate on the resolution, which was adopted by a 293-10 vote, generated intense emotion, including remarks from Brad Regehr of Winnipeg, Canada, current president of the Canadian Bar Association, a member of the Peter Ballantyne Cree Nation in Saskatchewan and the first Indigenous person to hold the position of CBA president.

The House also adopted ABA Principles on Law Enforcement Body-Worn Camera Policies. Resolution 604, seeks appropriate government entities to develop comprehensive policies regarding the use of body-worn cameras, as well as the use and storage of their footage, among eight principles.

The HOD also adopted:

  • Resolution 608, which urges legislation to provide all employees a living wage.

  • Resolution 609, which opposes any federal, state, local, territorial and tribal legislation, regulation or policy that prohibits transgender students from participating in athletics in accordance with their gender identity.
  • Resolution 507, which opposes the continued use of private prisons for detention or corrections purposes and urges all governmental units to terminate their contracts with private prisons.
  • Resolution 509, which urges the highest court or bar admission authority of each jurisdiction to adopt rules that would allow attorneys in their jurisdiction to earn continuing education credit for service as a poll or election worker.
  • Resolution 514, which seeks adoption of federal and local hate crime legislation and specifies civil remedies and First Amendment protections to be built into the legislation. The policy specifically mentions that Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders are covered by the resolution.
  • Two internal ABA governance items. Resolution 11-2 postpones until after the 2023 Annual Meeting determination for whether representation of ABA sections and state and local bar associations should be reduced based on membership numbers. Resolution 11-3 amends various sections of the ABA Constitution, Bylaws and Rules of Procedure as it relates to the House to change gender binary language to gender nonbinary language using the singular “their,” “them” and “they.”

The HOD meeting concluded the 2021 ABA Hybrid Annual Meeting, which began Aug. 4. Altogether, more than 40 measures were addressed, including new policy and bylaw initiatives. Final action on resolutions and other actions can be found  here, and only measures adopted by the House constitute ABA policy.

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