Wednesday, December 07, 2005

Today, the Supreme Court ruled 9-0 to uphold a decision by the 9th circuit court that Social Security benefits can be seized by the government to pay off old student debt.

Retiring Justice Sandra Day O’Connor wrote the decision that went against a disabled man, James Lockhart, who had sued claiming he needed all of his $874 monthly check to pay for food and medication.

Lockhart, 67, a former postal worker who now lives in public housing in Seattle, has heart disease, diabetes and other health problems. He has about $77,000 in student loan debt.

His government benefits had been cut by 15 percent to cover debts he incurred for college in the 1980s.

Lockhart also lost before the San Francisco-based 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, which said that Congress had eliminated a 10-year time limit on the government’s right to seek repayment on defaulted student loans by seizing payments, including Social Security, to individuals.

Now it is true that Mr. Lockhart incurred the debt, and he should do what he can to pay it back. At the same time, it is unlikely that he foresaw the fact that he would become disabled and unable to work. Social Security checks are not large by any means (designed to keep a roof over the head and food on the table of people who no longer are able to earn income), and if he is forced to do this, then it opens the gates for Congress to extend this law to cover credit cards, housing loans, and other old debts. What this could lead to is a bunch of retired people living on the streets while their Social Security checks go to a collection of private lenders.

Now, I don't blame the courts. The Supreme Court and the 9th circuit (the most liberal of the circuit courts) only ruled according to the law that Congress wrote. This is a change that was passed by this Republican Congress. And until they are gone, there is the likelihood that they will continue to pass legislation like this.

All rights reserved.
Disclaimer And Comment Policy