Economic inequality

  • July 31, 2015
    Video Interview

    by Nanya Springer

    In the current political climate, the idea that Congress should pass legislation redistributing wealth and resources is met with abhorrence by conservatives and, often, with apathy by liberals. This was not always the case, argues William Forbath, Associate Dean for Research and Lloyd M. Bentsen Chair in Law at the University of Texas School of Law. At one time, liberals widely viewed economic inequality as a constitutional issue and believed redistributive measures were not only permissible, but constitutionally required to ensure the equal protection of the laws and to promote the general welfare.

    In an interview with ACSblog, Forbath explains that today’s liberals have come to think the Constitution does not speak to the redistribution of resources. This contradicts the views of key historical lawmakers who discussed anti-trust, banking, currency and trade as constitutional issues and who viewed Congress as constitutionally obliged to promote the country’s broad economic wellbeing through redistributive policies. Forbath adds that even before the Equal Protection Clause appeared in the federal Constitution, state constitution guarantees of equal protection focused on protecting the poor from legislation that favored economic elites. “The Constitution needs safeguards against oligarchy,” he asserts. “Ours is an anti-oligarchy Constitution.”

    Noting America’s shrinking middle class and diminishing equality of opportunity, Forbath concludes that “these older generations were right . . . You can’t keep a constitutional democracy or a republican form of government with boundless inequality. You can’t keep it without a broad middle class. You can’t keep it alongside an oligarchic, entrenched economic elite.” Instead he, along with fellow University of Texas Law Professor Joseph Fishkin, promotes a return to the idea that we have a “Constitution of opportunity” ― one that supports a robust middle class and ensures opportunity for all, not just the privileged.

    Watch the full interview here or below.


  • 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.