U.S. Supreme Court

A ‘Somewhat Tense Moment’ as Justices Consider Discharge of Student Loans

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Justice Sonia Sotomayor was so eager to question a lawyer in a case involving the discharge of student loan debt that she ended up apologizing for interrupting his response to another justice.

The case argued yesterday could affect graduates nationwide who can’t repay their student loans, USA Today reports. Federal law bars the discharge of student loans in bankruptcy absent an “undue hardship.”

Former trade school student Francisco Espinosa had notified his lender of his bankruptcy petition, but it did not file an objection at the time, according to the story. The San Francisco-based 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals had ruled that was enough to permit the loan to be wiped out. The creditor, United Student Aid Funds, said a hardship hearing should have been required.

At one point in the arguments, Sotomayor jumped in as a lawyer began his second sentence in response to a question from Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, Law.com reports. The story labels the exchange “a somewhat tense moment.”

“Counsel, may I interrupt for just one moment, because I—there is something needling at me that I do need an answer to,” Sotomayor said.

The story says Justice Stephen G. Breyer then turned to Sotomayor as if to intervene, but Ginsburg didn’t need the help.

“And I’d like him to answer the question that I asked him first,” Ginsburg said.

“I’m sorry,” Sotomayor replied. The story says she looked “slightly chagrined.”

The case is United Student Aid Funds v. Espinosa.

Prior coverage:

ABAJournal.com: “Supreme Court to Consider Abbreviated Discharge of Student Loan”

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