After all, Stevens holds the seat that was previously occupied by William O. Douglas and Louis Brandeis, two of the leading anti-corporate crusaders of the twentieth century....Anti-corporate crusaders? Sure, pick an anti-corporate crusader, Obama, and let's see how the back-and-forth in the Senate Judiciary Committee plays out. I mean, the nominee will still be confirmed, but in the rest of the political arena, leading up to the November elections? That would be brutal for the Democrats.
Yet none of the leading candidates for the Court appears to be an economic populist....The Supreme Court itself stopped its own progressive forward glide when the opportunities for expanding constitutional rights arose in the context of redistribution of wealth (which is what Rosen and his ilk spin as "economic justice").
Why the absence of liberal economic populists from the shortlist?...
Since the 1960s, grassroots progressives have focused on non-economic issues: reproductive choice, for example, or civil liberties in an age of terrorism. That means that the current Supreme Court candidates had their legal sensibilities shaped in a political environment that was less preoccupied with questions of economic justice....
That’s a shame, because the most important issues the Roberts Court will confront over the next decade involve the constitutionality of environmental measures and economic regulations passed in the wake of the crash of 2008.... [I]t will not be enough for liberals simply to champion judicial deference for its own sake. The next justice will, like Brandeis and Douglas, need to make a substantive case for why these regulations are indispensable to protecting American democracy from the narrow interests of a corporate oligarchy....If "environmental measures and economic regulations" are going to be passed, then why is anything more than deference to legislatures needed? Why should a Supreme Court Justice think he could bolster arguments for deference to democracy by expressing enthusiasm for the substance of the choices that legislatures have made?
The judicial role is strengthened by the appearance of neutrality and fidelity to law. Conversely, judges undercut their own power when they make it sound as though they are reaching their decisions because of their support for legislation that is challenged as a violation of constitutional rights. When arguments for constitutional rights fail, it should be (or at least appear to be) because the claimed rights don't exist, not because the rights claimants' interests are "narrow" and run counter to what the majority wants. Rights are supposed to work against the preference of the majority, so we should be wary of someone who says courts must "protect American democracy from... narrow interests." He is saying rights are not rights.
Although the next justice may not be an economic populist, the confirmation hearings ahead are an opportunity to cast the spotlight on the intersection between economic populism and the law. Leahy and other Senate Democrats should use the hearings to ask the nominee to discuss these questions in depth.Great! A bloodbath. Sounds exciting. I'll watch.