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Lockhart v. United States

Close Date: 12/07/2005
Topic(s): Consumer Justice
Protecting Constitutional Rights and Requirements
Status: closed
Citation: 126 S. Ct. 699 (2005)
Date Of Involvement: 07/01/2005
Docket: 04-881

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Description:

In this case in the U.S. Supreme Court, we represented James Lockhart, an elderly disabled man who relies on his monthly social security check to pay for his food and prescription medication. The Court granted our petition to decide whether the Social Security Act and the Debt Collection Act bar the government from withholding Mr. Lockhart's social security benefits to collect student loan debt that has been outstanding for more than ten years, as the Eighth Circuit has held, or whether the Higher Education Act eliminates any such bar, as the Ninth Circuit held below. (The government had also petitioned for certiorari from the Eighth Circuit's decision, but the Court did not grant the government's petition.) Public Citizen argued the case on November 2, 2005. Unfortunately, the Supreme Court agreed with the government that a portion of Mr. Lockhart's social security benefits may be withheld.

Question presented:

Do the Social Security Act and the Debt Collection Act bar the United States from withholding social security benefits to collect student loan debt that has been outstanding for more than ten years, as the Eighth Circuit has held, or does the Higher Education Act eliminate any such bar, as the Ninth Circuit held below?

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