Obama - January 18, 2001

January 18, 2001 Audio
**Update: October 29, 2008 

If the audio is not playing, you can listen to the entire episode on our blog 
hosted by Gretchen Helfrich
[ ]

The Court and Civil Rights 

Susan Bandes – Professor of law at DePaul University and the editor of the book, “The Passions of Law”
Dennis Hutchinson – The William Rainey Harper professor in the college, senior lecturer in the law school and editor of the Supreme Court Review at the University of Chicago

Barack Obama – Illinois State Senator from 13th district and a senior lecturer in the law school at the University of Chicago
[The transcripts are from YouTube videos]

“… we are 5 days away from fundamentally transforming the United States of America.”

2001 Obama Chicago Public Radio Interview – WBEZ.FM

Obama was Illinois State Senator from the 13th district, and senior lecturer at the University of Chicago.
[this starting portion of the audio is 1m 55s]

“… If you look at the victories and failures to the civil rights movement, and it’s litigation strategy in the court, I think where it succeeded was to vest formal rights in previously dispossessed peoples, so that I would now have the right to vote, I would now be able to sit at a lunch counter and order, and as long as I could pay for it, I’d be ok.

But, the Supreme Court never ventured into the issues of redistribution of wealth, and more basic issues of political and economic justice in the society. And, to that extent, as radical as I think people try to characterize the Warren court, it wasn’t that radical. It didn’t break free from the essential constraints that were placed by the founding fathers and the constitution. At least, as it’s been interpreted. 

And more important, interpreted in the same way that, generally the constitution is a charter of negative liberties. It says what the states can’t do to you; it says what the federal government can’t do to you, but it doesn’t say what the federal government or the state government must do on your behalf.

And, that hasn’t shifted. And one of the, I think, the tragedies that civil rights movement was, because the civil rights movement became so court focused, I think that there was a tendency to lose track of the political and community organizing and activities on the ground that are able to put together the actual coalitions of power through which you bring about redistributive change. And, in some ways, we still suffer from that.”

(text from the YouTube video… 
Yes, he just said it’s a tragedy the constitution wasn’t radically reinterpreted 
to force redistribution of wealth for African Americans, and it’s still an issue today.)

[Karen, a caller, asks a question]

“The gentleman made the point that the Warren court wasn’t terribly radical. My question is, with economic changes. My question is, is it too late for that kind of reparative work, economically, and is that [the court] the appropriate for reparative economic work to take place”?

“You mean the court”?

“The court. Or would it be legislation at this point”?

“You know, maybe I’m showing my bias here as a legislator as well as a law professor, but, you know, I’m not optimistic about bringing about major redistributive change through the courts. The institution just isn’t structured that way”. 

(text from the YouTube video:
He doesn’t think the court can do it, but he does think it can be done legislatively. 
It isn’t too late.)

“… look at very rare examples during the desegregation era, the court, for example, was willing to order, you know, changes that cost money to a local school district. And, the court, was very uncomfortable with it; it was hard to manage; it was hard to figure out. You start getting into all sorts of separation of powers issues, you know, it terms of the court monitoring, or engaging in a process that is, essentially is administrative and takes a lot of time.

(text from the YouTube video:
He just said redistributing wealth is an administrative task!!!)

“… the court’s just not very good at it, an politically, it very hard to legitimize opinions from the court in that regard. So, I mean, that, although you can craft theoretical justifications for it legally, and I think that, any three of us sitting here could come up for a rationale for bringing about economic change through the courts.
(text from the YouTube video:
This is not a discussion about whether or not redistribution is right or wrong.  
This is a discussion about how to do it!!!)
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