Justice or Just Business? Billionaire Ties Put Alito in the Hot Seat over Student Debt Relief Cases

In the eye of a brewing storm over two Supreme Court cases that could destabilize President Joe Biden’s student debt relief plan, advocates are sounding the alarm for Justice Samuel Alito to step aside. The call for recusal stems from a shocking conflict of interest report, throwing the spotlight onto GOP megadonor, Paul Singer, and his intricate financial web entangling Alito.

Singer, who’s no stranger to the political spotlight, has connections to two major student loan cases before the Supreme Court. In the wake of Alito’s past remarks on conflicts of interest, the Student Borrower Protection Center (SBPC) is urging him to withdraw from the cases before the forthcoming decisions.

Drawing from Alito’s own words concerning the perception of impropriety and his established recusal standard from his Senate confirmation hearing, the SBPC appealed in a Wednesday letter: “Given your stated concerns over ‘the appearance of impropriety’…we expect that you agree that it is necessary to recuse yourself from both cases.”

Just one night before, an investigation by ProPublica made waves when it revealed Singer gifted Alito with a $100,000 private jet flight to Alaska. The fact that Alito did not disclose this trip and also failed to withdraw from a case involving Singer’s hedge fund, Elliott Management, raises eyebrows. The 2014 ruling in favor of Elliott Management, in which Alito was among the majority, earned the hedge fund a tidy $2.4 billion.

Singer’s sway in conservative legal circles seems to linger. As chairman of the Manhattan Institute, a right-leaning think tank, Singer backed a February brief supporting Republican states and a conservative group trying to dismantle student debt relief in the cases Biden v. Nebraska and Department of Education v. Brown.

A colorful metaphor underlines their argument: “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, in essence, argues for statutory powers to be treated with the same logic as everyday social situations. However, experts and advocates of student debt relief have repeatedly disputed this perspective.

But Singer’s influence doesn’t end there. His donations to the Judicial Crisis Network indirectly fund the case against student debt relief in Department of Education v. Brown, a lawsuit introduced by two student debtors supported by the Job Creators Network Foundation, a conservative advocacy group.

In response to these ties, the SBPC wrote, “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.” The only solution, they argue, is for Alito to recuse himself from both cases, highlighting the critical role of impartiality and transparency in the pursuit of justice.