Linked and Loaded Evening

Links to what I’ve been reading.

The Meaning of Equal

David Gans and Doug Kendall

Justice Antonin Scalia created a firestorm last winter when he opined that the 14th Amendment does not protect women against discrimination on the basis of sex. The truth is that this view has been, until recently at least, a bedrock conviction of conservative originalists. In that sense then, the bigger news came at a Senate Judiciary Committee hearing in October when, confronted on his remarks by Sen. Dianne Feinstein, Scalia backpedaled and suggested that the Equal Protection Clause did indeed protect women from state-sponsored discrimination on the basis of sex. For a Justice famous for his blunt and unchanging conservative views, Scalia’s fancy footwork was fascinating, and telling.

 *My Note: File this under, although an interesting case, the limits of Constitutional originalist thinking.

Hecklers Veteos

Ian Millhiser

As Segall correctly notes, judges or justices must recuse themselves from any case in which they participated as a “counsel, adviser, or material witness” while they were a government attorney. Yet Justice Kagan testified under oath at her confirmation hearing that she never laid one legal hand on the health care lawsuits while she served as solicitor general, and her testimony is corroborated by documents obtained by a conservative group seeking evidence requiring her recusal through the Freedom of Information Act. Segall presents no evidence suggesting that Kagan perjured herself at her confirmation hearing, instead claiming that the “lack of certainty” about whether or not Kagan was telling the truth nevertheless “points to recusal.”

[…]If the Constitution is clear about one thing, it is that judges must be independent of the political process. This is why federal judges are not elected. It is why they serve lifetime appointments, why their salaries can never be diminished, and why they cannot be removed except through the extraordinary and extraordinarily difficult process of impeachment. Segall, however, would strip Justice Kagan of her power to decide an important constitutional case, in large part because of the political pressure being applied to her and her fellow justices. Whatever Kagan’s ethical obligations may be, they must not change because of the political whims of the Republican Party.

Rethinking Debt

Jared Bernstein

[…]In other words, there are very high opportunity costs to misunderstanding and misusing debt, both in booms and busts. Economists have a solid understanding and story about the “identities” involved in public debt—the basic relations among deficits, savings, and debt. But we disagree on their implications. Financial market participants seem to regularly relearn lessons regarding the instability cycle associated with overleveraging, a cycle identified by Minsky years ago. Politicians deeply fret (and scaremonger) about deficits and debt, while neither exhibiting much of an understanding of their functions nor doing much about them. In some cases, these pols are motivated by an ideological strategy to shrink government, but in others, they fail to understand important nuances regarding the purpose, timing, and magnitude of public borrowing.

Who Counts as ‘Rich’? Continued

Bruce Bartlett

[…]The first thing to know is that there is no formal definition of who is rich, middle class or poor. Of course, there is an official definition for the poverty rate, but that figure is just a back of the envelope calculation that has simply been increased by the inflation rate since the 1960s. There are many other ways of calculating the poverty rate that could either raise the poverty threshold or reduce it.

Another problem is that one’s social class is a function of both income and wealth. There are many among the elderly who have little income but may have fairly substantial wealth by, for example, owning a home free and clear. At the other end, there are those with high incomes who are, nevertheless, deeply in debt, perhaps even having a negative net worth.

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