One of the nation’s most hotly debated issues—income inequality—was the topic of this year’s Drake University Law School Constitutional Symposium. Drake hosted some of the country’s leading legal experts and activists to discuss this relevant topic during the April 14 conference, “Constitutionalism and the Poor.”
During the past year, issues concerning the growing divide between the rich and poor have become a frequent part of political discourse. Escalating poverty levels, the highly publicized “Occupy Wall Street” movement and attacks on “predatory” capitalism have all contributed to the issue’s prominence. The topic joins the same-sex marriage divide, the War on Terror, and religion’s role in the state on the list of popular controversies that have been addressed at the annual symposium.
“Some believe that government must intervene to reduce income inequality and redistribute the wealth through taxes or other means,” says Mark Kende, director of the Drake University Constitutional Law Center and symposium moderator. “On the other hand, free market advocates believe such intervention is detrimental in most cases and creates disincentives for wealth-creating activity.”
During the symposium, Peter Edelman, professor of law and faculty director of the Center on Poverty, Inequality and Public Policy at Georgetown University Law Center, delivered the keynote address, “Dandridge v. Williams Redux: A Look Back From the 21st Century.” In his speech, he advocated for judicial and other forms of assistance to the poor. Edleman served as President Bill Clinton’s assistant secretary for welfare programs; ironically, he opposed Clinton’s welfare reform policies.
Ilya Shapiro, senior fellow in Constitutional Studies and editor-in chief of Cato Supreme Court Review at the Cato Institute, offered an opposing point of view, speaking against government assistance. In his lecture, “Occupy Pennsylvania Avenue: How the Government’s Unconstitutional Actions Harm the Poor,” he expressed his support for free markets because he believes they liberate economic opportunity.
Kende says the crowd—which overflowed into another room, where a videocast of the discussions were shown—responded positively to the clashing viewpoints.
A number of constitutional law scholars joined the discussion, including Julie Nice, Herbst Foundation Professor of Law at the University of San Francisco School of Law; Frank Michelman, Robert Walmsley University Professor at Harvard Law School; john powell, director of the Haas Diversity Research Center at the University of California at Berkeley; and Mark Cady, LW’78, Chief Justice of the Iowa Supreme Court. More information about each presenter can be found on the 2012 symposium’s website.
The Drake Constitutional Law Center is one of only four constitutional law programs created by the United States Congress and funded by the federal government. The annual Constitutional Law Symposium has hosted many distinguished scholars in its efforts to foster study of the U.S. Constitution, its roots, its formation, its principles and development. The symposium was made possible by support from the Des Moines law firm of Belin McCormick, P.C.