Editor’s Preface: Winter 2016

By Nathan Goetting

After the deregulation of the financial industry during the 1980s and 1990s, banks and other lenders initiated predatory lending practices that, in fairly short order, helped precipitate the near-collapse of the U.S. economy during the “Great Recession” of 2008. Lenders did what they always do when they aren’t compelled to do otherwise—they targeted members of vulnerable populations—the poor, the financially illiterate, the elderly—with promises of homes, vehicles, and other items that they should have known the borrow­ers could not afford, while they would profit even on defaulted loans. These contracts polarized wealth, increasing the already out-of-whack income disparity between rich and poor. They devastated borrowers financially and exacerbated social problems, including crime rates, concomitant with pov­erty. These harms were too obvious not to have been foreseen by lenders, who nonetheless proceeded like a juggernaut until the last possible moment before the bubble burst. The financial catastrophes of 1929 and 2008 were different in a thousand ways but, ultimately, they were the result of the same fundamental cause—the indomitable spirit of capitalism itself—the greed of the haves levied against the weaknesses of the have-nots.

Unlike the Roosevelt administration’s aggressive response to the Great Depression, recent reforms have been mere gestures designed to stabilize and entrench (and in many cases to outright bail out) rather than punish those responsible for the 2008 collapse. The same morally corrupt system, based on perverse incentives whereby lenders profit in seemingly direct proportion to the financial pain they cause borrowers, remains largely in place.

“Border Town Bullies: The Bad Auto Deal and Subprime Lending Prob­lem among Navajo Nation Car Buyers” by Megan Horning examines a par­ticularly reprehensible example of the kind of predatory lending. It explores the crushing effects predatory car loans continue to have on Navajo people. Horning explains the numerous social, cultural, economic, and geographical factors that combine to make the Navajo community uniquely susceptible to the profit-maximizing machinations of car dealerships. It comprehensively maps out the fraud, trickery, and coercion used against borrowers for whom a car is a necessity due to the remote and sparsely populated region in which they live. After diagnosing the problem, Horning goes on to suggest a list of remedies that might help protect the Navajo from continued exploitation.

In 1995, during the Bosnian War, the Bosnian Serb army separated 8,000 Muslim Bosniak males from the remainder of the population in the town of Srebrenica and deliberately murdered them. This act of violence, and the accompanying displacement and relocation of the town’s remaining inhabit­ants, was the most egregious example of genocide and ethnic cleansing on European soil since World War II. International criminal courts have con­demned many of those responsible, including Radovan Karadzic, president of the Republica Srbska, known today as the “Butcher of Bosnia.”  That former president Karadzic was captured, behind a leonine beard and a pseudonym in Serbia, and brought to justice was a relief to those who value human rights the world over. However, as Alan W. Clarke and David Gespass demonstrate in “Successes and Failures: Assessing the ICTY after Prosecutor v. Radovan Karadzic,” the International Criminal Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia’s ruling in this case is hardly immune from criticism. This article analyzes the Court’s opinion, especially focusing on how, by narrowly defining elements of the crime and increasing prosecutorial burdens, it might make future genocide prosecutions more difficult.

After about 30 years as an associate justice, last year one of the most reac­tionary and obnoxious justices in the history of the Supreme Court, Antonin Scalia, died. Since then many eulogies have been written. Right-wing legal activists have mourned a fallen idol. Despite disagreeing with many of his opinions, ideological opponents have, for the most part, been respectful if not downright obsequious in their praise for Scalia’s intellect, commitment to his ideals, and capacity for eloquence. Nearly all have united in predicting his lasting impact on the Court and society.

David Gespass, Meredith Osborne, and I aren’t so impressed. In “Putting Scalia in Perspective” we argue that the recently deceased justice adhered to a dangerous and deceptive method of legal interpretation that, conveniently and entirely unsurprisingly, was perfectly suited his longstanding political ambition of scaling back the progressive gains of the Warren Court era. We maintain that is his flawed approach to deciding cases, along with his boor­ish behavior toward his colleagues on the bench, that should be his legacy.

—Nathan Goetting, editor-in-chief