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Advocates: Alito Must Recuse Due to Billionaire’s Stake in Student Debt Cases

GOP megadonor Paul Singer’s think tank filed a brief in support of overturning student debt relief.

Paul Singer, founder and president of Elliott Management, is seen at the 2015 Delivering Alpha on July 15, 2015.

Student debt advocates are urging Supreme Court Justice Samuel Alito to recuse himself from two key pending Supreme Court cases that could see the overturn of President Joe Biden’s student debt relief plan after a stunning report has revealed a potential conflict of interest for the justice.

GOP megadonor Paul Singer, who has suddenly found himself in the spotlight after ProPublica revealed his financial ties to Alito in a stunning report on Tuesday, also has ties to two of the most potentially consequential cases regarding student loans currently sitting before the High Court.

Using Alito’s own statement about conflicts of interest in his decision on another case involving Singer years ago, the Student Borrower Protection Center (SBPC) urged Alito to recuse himself from the cases before the decisions are posted, which could come any week now.

“Given your stated concerns over ‘the appearance of impropriety’ related to potential conflicts of interest and the standard for recusal you set out in your own Senate confirmation hearing (recusal is needed when “any possible question might arise”), we expect that you agree that it is necessary to recuse yourself from both cases,” SBPC wrote in a letter sent Wednesday to Alito.

On Tuesday night, ProPublica published an investigation showing that Singer once gave Alito a flight on his private jet to Alaska for a fishing trip, a flight valued at roughly $100,000 one way. Alito never disclosed the trip, and also failed to recuse himself from a high-profile case that involved Singer’s hedge fund, Elliott Management, that would eventually net the hedge fund an award of $2.4 billion due when Alito and six other justices ruled for the firm in 2014.

As it turns out, Singer’s influence in conservative legal politics still looms large. Singer is the chairman of the Manhattan Institute — a conservative think tank that, together with the Cato Institute, filed a brief in February in support of a group of Republican states and a right-wing group seeking to strike down student debt relief in the Supreme Court cases Biden v. Nebraska and Department of Education v. Brown.

“When someone lends her credit card to a colleague and casually asks him to pick her up something for lunch, she doesn’t expect him to spend her money on a $6,000 burger,” the brief read, arguing that the government should interpret its statutory power in the same way as several given social situations. “Instructions and permissions have reasonable limits that we all understand based on context. The same holds true for interpreting statutes.”

The group went on to argue that, because Congress hasn’t authorized student debt relief, the Supreme Court should repeal the plan — an argument that has been debunked time and again by student debt advocates and legal experts.

Singer has also indirectly financially backed the case against student debt relief in Department of Education v. Brown. Brown was brought by two student debtors backed by the Job Creators Network Foundation, a right-wing advocacy group seeking to overturn the plan. Singer is a major donor to the Judicial Crisis Network, which has given at least $150,000 in financial support to the Job Creators Network since 2015.

“The appearance of corruption — your ties to Mr. Singer, and his ties to organizations with business before the court in Brown and Nebraska — clear the high ethical bar you established for yourself at your confirmation hearing in 2006. You clearly stated that when ‘any question might arise’ as to your impartiality as a result of personal or professional entanglements, you must recuse yourself from the matter at hand,” SBPC wrote. “There is only one path forward: you must recuse yourself in both Brown and Nebraska.”

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