Are President Putin And Chief Justice Roberts Strong Enough To Fight Corruption?

Some people seem to think Putin and Roberts are strong leaders.  If they are really strong leaders, why do they seem to be so afraid of fighting corruption in their societies?

Putin’s invasion and annexation of Crimea was opportunistic, taking advantage of a chaotic situation in Ukraine and seemingly taking western Europeans and Americans by surprise.  But some commentators believe his goal was to distract his own domestic audience in Russia from economic failures due primarily to endemic corruption, most visibly on the Sochi Olympic project.  However accurate that explanation, in the longer view Putin has not succeeded in modernizing Russia’s economy, particularly in reducing the deadweight losses from corruption.

John Roberts, likewise, seems a shrewd operator, but one wonders how well his opinion in McCutcheon, the latest campaign finance case, will wear with a little age.  As Zephyr Teachout of Fordham Law School has written (see her downloadable SSRN papers on corruption, especially “The Anti-Corruption Principle”) corruption for the Framers and Founders was by no means limited to outright bribery.  Corruption depends on concentration of power, anti-corruption on dispersal of power–thus the crucial constitutional principles of “separation of powers” and “checks and balances.”  She argues persuasively that for anyone even mildly committed to fidelity to the original understandings of the Consitution, “anti-corruption” is a freestanding principle that can and sometimes ought to limit and constrain the application of other cardinal constitutional principles, even First Amendment principles such as free speech.  James Madison, Alexander Hamilton, and George Mason are likely turning in their graves over Roberts’ latest “what? me worry” pro-corruption judicial opinion.  Is John Roberts wiser than the Founders?

 

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