Economic Justice and the Supreme Court

May 26, 2009 by  
Filed under Economics

economic_justiceWith President Obama’s nomination of Sonia Sotomayor to the U.S. Supreme Court, the question of  “economic justice” as a goal of a liberal judiciary has re-surfaced and is now front and center.

Why do I say this?  

First, you may recall during last year’s presidential campaign, this audio clip surfaced of a 2001 interview that then state representative Obama gave to a local radio station. Some interpret his comments as advocating the use of the U.S. Supreme Court to aid in the re-distribution of wealth.  The President appears to suggest that protecting the “formal rights” of the non-privileged classes is not enough.

Next, here is a quote on a similar topic (from an ABC News bio) attributed to Judge Sotomayor:

She has spoken often of how her early poverty and Hispanic heritage have shaped her views. “I have spent my years … in my various professional jobs not feeling completely a part of any of the worlds I inhabit,” she said in a November 2002 interview with The Hispanic Outlook in Higher Education. “We educated, privileged lawyers have a professional and moral duty to represent the underrepresented in our society, to ensure that justice exists for all, both legal and economic justice.”

Third, here is a brief clip of Judge Sotomayor at a panel discussion in 2005, openly acknowledging the so-called policy-making role of an appellate judge:

She thinks it’s funny to sort of not talk about the fact that she makes policy as a judge. I for one am not laughing.

Putting all of this together, what does it mean? I suppose that depends on how you understand the concept of  “economic justice.”  

To many (and that probably includes President Obama), economic justice inherently includes re-distributing wealth. The President has already moved well along this path. This is evidenced by: (a) numerous refundable federal income tax credits incorporated in his various stimulus packages; and (b) sending more taxpayer dollars (stimulus payments) to the states that themselves are wealth re-distributors (e.g., California). There will be more of this as taxes are necessarily increased down the road. Fewer voters will pay taxes in the Obama world because the haves will be told to surrender more of their wealth to the have-nots. The estate tax will be another target of the “economic justice” political crowd.

Legislating wealth re-distribution is the prerogative of the party in power. I don’t like it but that’s the way the political game is played. But I strongly object when the judiciary joins in. 

I have no problem with judges and juror bringing their life experiences into the court room, particularly when trying to separate truth from fiction among the evidence presented.

I do have a problem with judges injecting their personal views of who should have money – and how much money they should have – into their decision-making process.

To me, “economic justice” in the judicial and political systems must be focused on equal opportunity, not equal outcomes. As one example, this means putting an end to actual race, age or gender wage discrimination in the workplace.

But notice my use of the word “actual.” There are those who believe that any disparity in economic outcome is an evil that must be rooted out, even if it is not caused by actual discrimination or mistreatment. These folks don’t think there should be winners and losers in our economic system.  They want the winnings shared with the losers. People are entitled to have this view, even judges. But when the judges head into work, they must leave that personal view of  “economic justice” at home.

Judge Sonia Sotomayor will be confirmed, unless the vetting process reveals some deep secret or yet another nominee tax problem. She will probably lay low for a while, until she feels comfortable. But then, observe carefully as her true views of “economic justice” emerge. Her battles with Justice Roberts could be fun to watch.

What are your thoughts on the use of our legal system to implement “economic justice” in the U.S.?

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3 Responses to “Economic Justice and the Supreme Court”
  1. My Journey says:

    I haven’t had the opportunity to do the research myself, but your post gives a good starting point.

  2. MasterPo says:

    “Economic justice” simply means whoever has the more money is guilty and owes it to the other party. Period. Right/wrong or the law is an annoying irrelevancy.

  3. Josh Gilmore says:

    First of all, don’t mind my sometimes “cocky” tone below. It’s not directed a the author personally.

    As to my comment: I have no problem with moving toward the re-distribution of wealth. Simply put, the super wealthy are TOO wealthy. How about a little of that money my way, so that I can reduce my work hours a bit to visit with friends, read a good book, play music, or maybe STOP, breathe – and perhaps enjoy the beach (the wind blowing through my hair) a little more often? What’s our life about? We’re on this planet for 80 years and then it’s all over (unless there’s a heaven that has a better economic system). Currently we work too long of hours for the corporate machine, retire for 15 years, and then die. What was that all about?

    I’m not against capitalism – I know it’s a very necessary ingredient for an economy. However, the socialist Scandinavian countries’ citizens report the most personal happiness in the world. Our lives should be more than just being pressured to work for a greed machine. Realistically, this machine won’t ever stop unless the government (of the people) intervenes and seeks a better balance.

    If Sotomayor has this imperfection you speak about in her judicial reasoning, it’s not going to do any radical damage to the country (after all she is just one judge working with eight other “perfect” constitutional judges). In fact it will probably skew things toward the balanced and good. It’s high time the Democrats “manipulate” the country for a while.

    Personally, I think all of us need to sit down and be quiet for a while in the wake of the Bush debacle and give the Obama team at least a couple years to implement their policies – then judge. I have hard time watching Republicans comment and criticize during this first 6 months of Obama’s administration. Shouldn’t they be hanging their head low for a while after what just happened during the last eight years? I don’t know if they have much to add to the discussion at this point other than to be helpful, supportive, and willing to try things a different way. Let’s give the Democrats some time! However, that’s not good for political as usual and it doesn’t make for provocative press either.

    I think the US needs to – and will probably be forced to (hopefully) – tip the economic money machine toward a more socialist bent in many of its arenas (such as health care and higher taxes on the rich) and avoid encouraging the unrestrained capitalism that got us into this economic mess in the first place. JG

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