South Carolina editorial roundup: Saturday, April 16, 2022


Times and Democrat

April 14

Targeting student debt relief is better

House Majority Whip James E. Clyburn, the South Carolina 6th District congressman, has been a leading voice for student loan forgiveness. He and a group of Democratic lawmakers called on President Joe Biden to extend beyond May 1 the payment pause for student debt put in place during the coronavirus.

The president responded by announcing an extension through Aug. 31. In a statement, Biden acknowledged that the economy is stronger than it was a year ago but that "we are still recovering from the pandemic and the unprecedented economic disruption it caused."

"That additional time will assist borrowers in achieving greater financial security and support the Department of Education's efforts to continue improving student loan programs," he said.

But Clyburn and others want the president to take the lead on doing more than pausing payments.

The South Carolina congressman has proposed legislation that would eliminate up to $50,000 in student loan debt for 42 million Americans, which Clyburn has said would provide debt relief to 95% of student borrowers, including canceling student debt entirely for 75% of borrowers.

The current student debt crisis endangers the financial stability of millions of struggling families and contributes significantly to the racial wealth gap, according to Clyburn.

Clyburn and other lawmakers urged Biden to "make clear to the American public your intention to cancel a meaningful amount of student debt."

Clyburn said Black students in particular are affected as they borrow more often while they are in school and have a harder time paying their debt off than their white peers. They are more than three times as likely to go into default within four years on their federal loans as white borrowers.

As a community with much at stake in the future of students at two historically Black universities, we favor assistance for students. But as with federal spending for pandemic relief and other Biden administration priorities, there is legitimate concern about cost and effectiveness.

Adam Looney is economic studies executive director at the Marriner S. Eccles Institute at the University of Utah. Writing for, he states: "There are better ways to spend that money that would better achieve progressive goals. Increasing spending on more targeted policies would benefit families that are poorer, more disadvantaged and more likely to be Black and Hispanic, compared to those who stand to benefit from broad student loan forgiveness. Indeed, shoring up spending on other safety net programs would be a far more effective way to help low-income people and people of color."

Widespread student loan forgiveness would rank among the largest transfer programs in American history. Based on data from the Department of Education, forgiving all federal loans would cost $1.6 trillion.

Forgiving student debt up to $50,000 per borrower would cost about $1 trillion. Limiting loan forgiveness to $10,000, as Biden has proposed, would cost about $373 billion.

Under each of these proposals, all borrowers would stand to benefit to differing degrees.

Looney is right that targeting relief is a better approach, stating that some people do not need loan relief at the expense of taxpayers.

"Student loan relief could be designed to aid those in greater need, advance economic opportunity and reduce social inequities, but only if it is targeted to borrowers based on family income and post-college earnings. Those who borrowed to get college degrees that are paying off in good jobs with high incomes do not need and should not benefit from loan-forgiveness initiatives that are sold as a way to help truly struggling borrowers."

The Index-Journal

April 13

Newspapers might anger some but serve important role

You know what is a real shame?

We'll tell you.

It's a real shame that we do not have better rules of the roads - ethics laws, that is - that would have negated the need for the chief justice of the state Supreme Court to have to step in and remove a former judge from what might be a legal situation but emits a putrid smell. Maybe these recent events emanating from Greenwood County relative to how foreclosure auctions are conducted will result in a statewide tightening up of ethics rules. Maybe. We can hope so.

Know what else is a bit of a shame, but also a godsend?

We'll tell you that as well.

That it takes journalists digging through the stink to cause others to take notice and, consequently, take action.

Make no mistake. We appreciate the watchdog investigative arm of Charleston's Post and Courier and the opportunities we have had to work with them. And we've done our own investigative work of this nature in the past. Painful as it is for some to remember, recall the reporting we did several years back on the in-district expense fund Greenwood County Council had established for itself.

Here's a takeaway for newspaper readers to consider. You might not always agree with your newspaper's opinions, you might not be pleased with every story it produces, but rest assured that without them, readers would be very much in the dark about a good many unethical and even illegal activities taking place among the people who serve them in elected and appointed posts.

That might sound like we are giving ourselves a pat on the back and, to an extent, we are giving ours and other community newspapers a pat on the back. But really, it's more of a reminder of the important role newspapers have in their communities - even when there are times they make you angry or upset you.

As we like to say, we exist to reflect, as best we can, the community we serve. That means seeing the good, the bad and the ugly at times.

Post and Courier

April 12

Chief justice's swift action on conflict should be the rule, not the exception

S.C. Chief Justice Don Beatty demonstrated again Monday how quickly the judiciary can respond to ethical problems, when he ordered court officials to stop relying on a Greenwood attorney whose family has purchased properties that he auctioned off as a foreclosure judge.

Justice Beatty's order barring Curtis Clark from acting as a temporary judge came just eight days after The Post and Courier's Thad Moore reported that Mr. Clark's wife and children purchased dozens of properties he had ordered sold, in one case even deeding over part of the property to him.

Since Greenwood County is too small to have a permanent judge to handle foreclosure cases, the clerk of court appoints a "referee" for each case, and that referee has all the power of a regular master-in-equity judge to order the property sold, and then auction it off to the highest bidder, often at a deep discount. Mr. Clark's temporary status made it easier to remove him from the job, as we had called on the clerk of court to do in our Saturday editorial.

But this isn't the first time the chief justice has acted in his capacity as administrative head of the judicial branch of state government to deal with ethical problems that could undermine the public's confidence in the impartiality of our courts.

In November, he scolded magistrates for taking a lackadaisical approach to their jobs, ordering full-time judges to work full-time. And in January, he lifted an order that had given lawyer-legislators special privileges in the courtroom, essentially allowing them to delay their cases indefinitely if that worked to their clients' advantage.

He reversed his order a day later, but then partially restored it within days, telling judges they could start requiring lawyer-legislators to show up in court in some instances on Mondays and Fridays, when the Legislature isn't in session.

We're still disturbed by the way he flip-flopped that order - and particularly by how he waited more than a month to amend the original language on the court's website - but the effect was to remove a small portion of the special privileges lawyer-legislators have received in the courtroom since long before he became chief justice.

The overall effect of the three actions underscores the important role the chief justice can - and should - play in protecting the integrity of our courts. Normally, the chief justice should be oblivious to public opinion, making his decisions based entirely on the constitution, the law and the facts. The exception is when he's acting in this capacity as head of our court system: Here, public opinion - specifically the public perception of the impartiality of the courts - should be his top priority.

We welcome Justice Beatty's swift action in doing what the elected clerk of court in Greenwood County should have done to deal with a problem that was sullying the public perception of the courts. The court should now consider whether any disciplinary action should be taken against Mr. Clark.

On a more systemic level, the chief should expand the use of the court's Advisory Committee on Standards of Judicial Conduct - a committee that advises judges on ethics questions, and a committee Mr. Clark never consulted even though he admitted to having qualms about allowing his relatives to purchase property that was available for sale only because of his decisions.

Instead of simply making the committee available for judges who choose to consult it on questions of ethical conduct, the Supreme Court should require a real-time outside adjudication whenever people raise concerns about conflicts of interest, so those problems can be addressed before any harm is done to the parties, or to the judge's career. That process also would make members of the public more likely to raise concerns than the current process of simply reporting them to the judge in question. And judges who don't report their potential conflicts to the parties and seek out an advisory opinion about whether they have a conflict should be subject to punishment.