According to a leading social-science theorem, democracy is supposed to act as a check on growing economic inequality. The intuition behind this is simple: If a majority of the population sees their incomes stagnate while the wealthy minority gets richer, that majority will demand redistributive policies, and representatives will respond by addressing inequality. But in the United States, very little redistribution has accompanied rising economic inequality. Why?
In this discussion, Bertrall Ross and Martin Seeleib-Kaiser examine the intentional decision by the framers to the U.S. Constitution to politically disempower the poor, and the constitutional limits the Supreme Court has placed on redressing economic inequality. Against this legal backdrop, Ross argues that reducing the electorate’s income-class imbalance — i.e. the wealthy voting at higher rates than the less affluent—is one of the last constitutionally effective means of ameliorating political inequality. In so doing, Ross shows how political campaigns’ mobilization strategies are key to inducing greater participation among the poor, and he proposes three legal strategies for how they might be implemented.
Bertrall Ross teaches constitutional law, election law, and legislation at the University of Virginia, where he is the Thurgood Marshall Professor of Law. He taught previously at the University of California – Berkeley Law School and at Columbia Law School, and has clerked for the Honorable Dorothy Nelson, of the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals, and the Honorable Myron Thompson, of the Middle District of Alabama. Ross received his BA from the University of Colorado, Boulder; MA from the Woodrow Wilson School of Public and International Affairs at Princeton University; M.Sc from the London School of Economics; and JD from Yale Law School. His research combines a concern with democratic responsiveness and a methodology integrating political theory and empirical social science into discussions of democratic design, legal doctrine, and the institutional role of courts.
Martin Seeleib-Kaiser studied political science, American studies and public law at Ludwig-Maximilians University in Munich, where he received his MA in 1989 and a doctorate in 1992. He completed his postdoctoral lecture qualification at Bremen University in 2000. Prior to his appointment at the Eberhard Karls University of Tübingen, in 2017, he held appointments at the University of Oxford (2004 – 17), Duke University (1999 – 2002) and Bremen University (1993 – 99; 2002 – 04). He has been a guest professor at George Washington University, Shizuoka University, Aalborg University and at the WZB Berlin Social Science Centre.