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ABA House adopts policies on student debt, criminal justice

August 12, 2021

The American Bar Association House of Delegates approved several dozen new policies on Aug. 9-10, including a measure asking 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 House of Delegates, seen here at a past session, convened in-person and virtually Aug. 9-10 to conclude the 2021 Hybrid Annual Meeting

The House of Delegates, seen here at a past session, convened in-person and virtually Aug. 9-10 to conclude the 2021 Hybrid Annual Meeting

American Bar Association photo graphic

The HOD, as the 597-member policymaking body is known, also adopted ABA Principles on Law Enforcement Body-Worn Camera Policies among several criminal justice measures. The eight principles ask appropriate government entities to develop comprehensive policies regarding the use of body-worn cameras, as well as the use and storage of their footage. Supporters said the guidelines could lead to improving police-community relations and trust in the justice system.

With thousands of young lawyers grappling with a challenging job environment and as much as $145,000 or more in student loans, the bankruptcy changes would rectify a situation that was created in 1998 when strict standards for student debt were imposed that treat student loans differently than other debt in bankruptcy proceedings. The ABA Young Lawyers Division conducted a recent survey in which more than 75% of respondents said they were straddled with significant student loans and have put off life “milestones” because of their situation, including buying a house or starting a family. Data shows that one-third of bankruptcies include student loan debt, and student loans are responsible for one-half of the debt.

The HOD also embraced the U.S. Department of Interior’s probe of atrocities involving Indigenous people. The ABA proposal emerged this summer after reports, mostly from Canada, found that authorities beginning more than a century ago engaged in efforts to assimilate and “civilize” indigenous children through the eradication of tribal culture. Immediate past ABA President Patricia Lee Refo spearheaded the resolution after tribal leaders in a July 12 visit to the Navajo Nation asked for ABA assistance in their efforts to determine what occurred in the U.S.

In floor remarks, Brad Regehr, president of the Canadian Bar Association, who is a member of the Peter Ballantyne Cree Nation in Saskatchewan and the first Indigenous person to hold the CBA position, thanked the ABA for its support, noting “my grandfather is a survivor” of the assimilation campaign. He said as many as 25,000 children never returned home, and the Canadian efforts so far have found extensive human remains, “some as young as 3.”

The HOD meeting concluded the 2021 ABA Hybrid Annual Meeting, which began Aug. 4 both online and in Chicago. Altogether, more than 40 measures were addressed, and only those adopted by the House constitute ABA policy.

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