Saturday, November 1, 2008

Constitutional History and the Campaign

Rather than focusing on actual policy differences in the waning days of this election year, the McCain campaign and its supporters are up in arms over a 2001 discussion of constitutional history on Chicago Public Radio. McCain campaign economic advisor Douglas Holtz-Eakin claimed that on the program "Barack Obama expressed his regret that the Supreme Court hadn't been more 'radical' and described as a 'tragedy' the Court's refusal to take up 'the issues of redistribution of wealth.' No wonder he wants to appoint judges that legislate from the bench."
Short excerpts of the hour-long conversation about the courts and civil rights have ricocheted around the blogosphere accompanied by claims that they are evidence that Obama supports a radical Supreme Court aimed at wealth redistribution.
In response to a query from the CNN "Truth Squad," I took a look at the transcript. It is an interesting but not particularly earth shattering discussion of Supreme Court history with Obama, University of Chicago Professor Dennis Hutchinson, and DePaul University Professor Susan Bandes. Rather than suggesting that Obama wants the courts to engage in wealth redistribution, he suggests that courts are not a good forum for disputes involving inequalities in public financing. Instead courts "are just poorly equipped to do it."

The rest of the story, including a long excerpt from the radio program, is posted at Balkinization.
There is a silver lining to the brouhaha. What else would cause so many to rush to listen to a rather academic discussion of constitutional history?