Those with their hands on the levers of the economy have a lot to worry about these days. But one thing they don't have to concern themselves with, at least right away, is the rule of law and stability of the nation's courts -- and that's a very good thing, according to speakers at a high-level conference at Georgetown University Law Center Thursday morning. It's the latest effort by retired Supreme Court Justice Sandra Day O'Connor to broaden the constituency for protecting fair and independent courts at both the federal and state level.
O'Connor brought together judges, academics, bar leaders, practitioners and business leaders to underline the necessary connection between the American economy and the courts. From the high court, Justices David Souter and Stephen Breyer were in attendance. Kicking off the conference, Georgetown law Dean T. Alexander Aleinikoff said business has "a vital stake in the functioning of our courts."
Former Federal Reserve chairman Alan Greenspan spoke to the group, pronouncing himself pleased to be focusing for the day on the judiciary, which he described as the only branch of government "still functioning" lately. Whenever he is asked what the key to the long-term growth of the American economy has been, Greenspan says his answer is: the U.S. Constitution. "Critical to economic growth is a rule of law," he said. Other key attributes of competitive markets are "reputation and trust," he said, and the erosion of trust leads to hesitancy in lending. "Trust will eventually re-emerge," he said, predicting that it will do so "sooner rather than later. It always has in this society governed by that remarkable document we call the Constitution of the United States."
O'Connor, for her part, stressed the same connection between stable courts and a stable economy. But she sees danger signs in the judicial side of the equation. She pointed to runaway jury verdicts and cash-infused judicial elections at the state level as trends that threaten the predictability and perceived fairness of the legal system, which she said are essential for businesses. Referring to judicial elections in which special interests on both sides back candidates with huge donations, O'Connor said, "Justice is a special commodity, I guess. The more you pay for it, maybe, the less it is worth."
First reported in The BLT: The Blog of Legal Times