Economic inequality

  • July 24, 2015
    Video Interview

    by Nanya Springer

    Some talk this week centered on the issue of reforming the U.S. Supreme Court, with one irresponsible proposal gaining moderate attention, but Erwin Chemerinsky has been talking about fixing the Supreme Court for years.  In an interview with ACSblog, Chemerinsky ‒ the Distinguished Professor of Law and Raymond Pryke Professor of First Amendment Law at the University of California, Irvine School of Law ‒ describes the Supreme Court’s greatest failures and proposes responsible solutions.

    Chemerinsky recalls the Lochner Era ‒ a period during which the high court struck down more than 200 laws enacted to protect consumers and employees, using the rationale that such laws interfere with freedom of contract. While the Lochner Era ended nearly a century ago, Chemerinsky explains that today’s Roberts Court “is the most pro-business Supreme Court that we’ve had since the mid-1930s.”

    This claim, as Chemerinsky notes, is backed up by empirical studies. From restricting the availability of class action suits and favoring binding arbitration to weakening the influence of unions, the Roberts Court has consistently sided with corporations over consumers and employees—all while refusing to recognize poverty as a suspect classification and determining that education is not a fundamental right.

    Chemerinsky offers reasonable proposals, such as imposing 18-year nonrenewable term limits, allowing cameras inside the Court and insisting that the justices conform to the same ethical standards, particularly with regard to recusal, as judges on other courts.

    Watch the full interview here or below.

  • July 8, 2015
    Guest Post

    by Mary Kelly Persyn, Orrick, Herrington & Sutcliffe

    “Law serves human values.” 

    Hon. Peter Rubin, ACS founder and (since 2008) justice of the Massachusetts Appeals Court, in an address to the Columbia Law School ACS Student Chapter, January 19, 2006.

    From its founding, ACS has advocated for true equality of opportunity, the taproot of American democracy. Rejecting the formal equality yielded by more conservative readings of our Constitution and laws, instead we seek equity—an authentically fair chance for all.

    But equity evades easy solutions, and inequity is spread so broadly across so many dimensions it’s difficult to know where to start. The answer, as I’ve written previously in this space, may well lie in approaches informed by collective impact—a modern Archimedes’ lever. Consider the work of Nadine Burke Harris, M.D., MPH, FAAP, a pediatrician who started a clinic in the Bayview neighborhood of San Francisco following her residency at Stanford. On Thursday, July 2, Dr. Burke Harris visited Orrick, Herrington & Sutcliffe to address an audience filled with United Way of the Bay Area Women’s Leadership Council members, ACS Bay Area Lawyer Chapter members, and their guests.

    The Bayview is a neighborhood rich in family and community ties. But it is poor in resources and health, and suffers one of the the highest crime rates in the city. After Dr. Burke Harris opened the Bayview Child Health Center, she began to see the links links between early childhood adversity and health. She began to see children coming to the clinic with high rates of asthma, ADHD, and other childhood illnesses at many times the rate of the general population. “Doctora,” one of her patients explained, “it seems like my daughter’s asthma is worse when her daddy punches a hole in the wall.” That’s obviously terrifying for a child—but why would asthma follow?

    As Dr. Burke Harris recounts, the answer materialized when a colleague came to her with the 1998 Kaiser study called “Adverse Childhood Experiences,” or ACEs. This  was the “aha” moment that would ultimately change the course of her career and lead to creation of the Center for Youth Wellness.

  • June 4, 2015
    Guest Post

    by Jill Adams, Executive Director, Center on Reproductive Rights and Justice, University of California, Berkeley School of Law

    *This post is part of ACSblog’s symposium honoring the 50th anniversary of Griswold v. Connecticut.

    When it comes to our most intimate experiences and decisions, the right to privacy should arm the many, not just shield the few who can afford to pay for it.  We’ve learned in the years since Griswold v. Connecticut that privacy is not a panacea for the fulfillment of all people’s sexual and reproductive rights.  The right to privacy has not granted secure and reliable respect for decisions we make in our bedrooms and about our bodies.  This is especially disappointing in a country that places such a legal and cultural premium on matters of autonomy and individualism – particularly in the private sphere.

    Cast in the mold of Griswold’s privacy-based right to use contraception, the right to choose abortion declared in Roe v. Wade similarly presents an important avenue but imperfect vehicle for everyone’s guaranteed arrival at reproductive self-determination.  Courts have allowed the proliferation of countless contractions, exemptions, and restrictions on the rights to abortion and contraception, siphoning power out of the hands of individuals wishing to exercise their reproductive rights and into the hands of states, corporations, and institutions wishing to constrain or control them.

     
    Is privacy really a “right” if you can’t afford to exercise it?
     
    The abstract right to use reproductive health services  free from governmental interference rings hollow without the necessary, enabling conditions to ensure access to such services and the ability to make decisions about them free from coercion by person, system, or circumstance.  For low-income people, and other marginalized populations, the right to privacy may merely be a right on paper if it is not a right they can actually afford to exercise.
  • April 21, 2015

    by Jeremy Leaming

    Sheryl Sandberg and Anne-Marie Slaughter have drawn much attention for their thoughts about the professional working lives of women.  But Sandberg and Slaughter have failed to recognize or willfully ignored the stations of the vast majority of working women – those women who do not have the luxury of “opting out” or “leaning in.”  The inadequacies of our workplace laws leave many working women behind and perpetually struggling to survive.

    American Constitution Society for Law and Policy (ACS) President Caroline Fredrickson, a former labor lawyer and a longtime leader in the legal progressive community, declares a powerful response to “leaning in,” or “opting out,” which dominate discussion of inequalities facing women in the workforce.

    The discussion of workplace equality for women now focuses almost exclusively on white-collar professionals.  This discussion needs broadening.

    Fredrickson’s compelling book, Under the Bus: How Working Women Are Being Run Over, tells the stories of many women, who do not have the protection of our laws or the ability to stand up to their employers’ often illegal demands.  Indeed, for too long many employers have ignored or been exempted from laws meant to protect workers against corporate malfeasance.  Fredrickson also notes the inadequacy of our laws is ingrained in a history riven with racial and gender biases.  Time after time, Fredrickson notes that historical progressive movements to improve the lives of working Americans have left women behind.  If our nation fails to embrace collective solutions to collective problems, inequality will continue to fester in America while democracy suffers.

  • April 3, 2015
    Guest Post

    by Nicole Huberfeld, H. Wendell Cherry Professor of Law, University of Kentucky

    The Supreme Court recently decided Armstrong v. Exceptional Child Center, a low-profile case that could strike at the heart of the Medicaid program, a federal program that provides funding to states to facilitate mainstream medical care for low-income Americans. The Medicaid Act contains requirements that states must obey to receive federal funding, one of which is called the equal access provision, or "30(A)".  This provision requires states to ensure that “payments . . . are sufficient to enlist enough providers so that care and services are available under the plan at least to the extent that such care and services are available to the general population in the geographic area.” Historically, Medicaid payment rates are lower than private insurance or Medicare rates, despite the 30(A) requirement for sufficient payment.

    Additionally, the Medicaid Act does not provide explicit remedies for state failures in the program, other than authorizing the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) to withdraw federal funding.  Thus, over the years, health care providers and patients have brought private enforcement actions under the civil rights statute known as Section 1983 or under the Supremacy Clause of the U.S. Constitution to enforce statutory rights under the Medicaid Act.  Section 1983 actions have been limited by the Supreme Court.  Consequently, health care providers and Medicaid beneficiaries turned to the Supremacy Clause, seeking injunctive relief against states under the theory that states violate federal law when they fail to pay sufficient reimbursement rates to ensure equal access.  Two years ago, the Court nearly eliminated Supremacy Clause actions in Douglas v. Independent Living Center, but deference to agency decision making ultimately stayed the Court’s hand.

    Armstrong has done what the dissent in Douglas would have.  Justice Scalia’s majority opinion pointedly began by noting that states agree to spend federal funds "in accordance with congressionally imposed conditions."  The majority asserted that the Supremacy Clause provides a "rule of construction" but does not "create a cause of action" unless Congress "permits the enforcement of its laws by private actors."  The Court then determined that Congress intentionally excluded private enforcement from the Medicaid Act, and therefore providers cannot seek injunctive relief under the Supremacy Clause.

    This conclusion is incorrect.  Congress did not "foreclose" or "exclude" private enforcement from the Medicaid Act, either in 1965 when Medicaid was enacted, or when 30(A) amended the Act.  In fact, Congress debated preventing providers and beneficiaries from seeking relief in federal court but never added such language to the Medicaid Act.  Nevertheless, the majority concluded that the Secretary of HHS is solely responsible for enforcing 30(A) pursuant to her authority under 42 U.S.C. §1396c to withhold Medicaid funds from non-compliant states.  The Secretary is reluctant to withhold funds because it could harm beneficiaries, but the majority did not engage this quandary.  Instead, the majority called 30(A) judicially unmanageable – even though lower federal courts have guided states under 30(A) for years – and held that HHS must directly engage the states without federal courts’ interference.

    The majority circled back to Medicaid's status as a spending program in Part IV of its opinion, which may resurrect a dormant theory of spending programs as being like contracts and unlike other federal laws.  The Court often analogizes federal conditional spending programs to contracts under the Pennhurst decision, but in some cases (e.g. Barnes v. Gorman), Justices have suggested that the "third party beneficiaries" of federal spending programs have no enforceable rights.  The majority opinion reiterated this view of conditional spending statutes, noting that "contracts between two governments" cannot be enforced by beneficiaries of those contracts.  Not even the historical vision of strict dual sovereignty in federalism would have claimed that the federal government and the states are co-equal sovereigns, yet this dicta seems to embrace a vision of federalism that offers much more power to the states.  The majority opened the courthouse doors to further eroding of conditional spending statutes in the context of the Medicaid Act and perhaps beyond.