Bench Memos

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Obama’s 2001 Interview about Using Court to Redistribute Wealth


In a 2001 WBEZ Chicago radio interview (available here), Barack Obama said that one of the “failures of the civil rights movement” was that “the Supreme Court never ventured into the issues of redistribution of wealth and sort of more basic issues of political and economic justice in this society.”

Obama lamented that he was “not optimistic about bringing about major redistributive change by the courts” — but not because he didn’t want to. Rather, he said that the Warren Court “didn’t break free from the essential constraints” in the Constitution — “at least as it’s been interpreted” — that prevent the Court from being an engine of redistributive economic justice. But Obama the liberal legal theorist said that he — unlike the Warren Court — could “craft theoretical justifications” for “legally . . . bringing about economic legal change through the courts.”

Presumably, an Obama administration would try to interpret the Constitution to advance those radical legal arguments — and an Obama Supreme Court would presumably uphold them — that would bring about “economic legal change through the courts.”

To ice the cake, Obama said in the same interview that the Warren Court “wasn’t that radical.”  Most Americans would certainly disagree with that view of a Court that drastically undermined democracy, expanded rights for criminals with no justification in the Constitution, and implemented the most liberal social mores of the 1960s as though they were part of the text of the Constitution.


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