Wednesday, May 27, 2009

Out of the courtroom and into the back room

I've been reading a little about Obama's Supreme Court pick, Sonia Sotomayor. She's not great, obviously, but she's probably not the worst result we could have gotten from Obama's "empathy" litmus test. Tom Bowden at ARI has a good blog post on why Sotomayor is unfit for the Court because of her opposition to objective judicial interpretation. (Does denial of its existence count as opposition?) Even so, a judge without principles is basically a broken clock, and ends up ruling well now and then due to sheer happenstance.

So, in reading about this woman, I came across a tidbit of information that troubled and saddened me. In the WSJ's article about Sotomayor's ruling history, this paragraph described one case of investor fraud:
In another pro-plaintiff ruling, Judge Sotomayor allowed a shareholder class-action suit against Merrill Lynch that alleged fraud. A unanimous Supreme Court in 2006 overruled Judge Sotomayor's Second Circuit opinion. The high court found that federal law assigned enforcement to the Securities and Exchange Commission, leaving no room for lawsuits under state fraud laws.

Ignoring the fact that legal philosophy has deteriorated in this country to the point that you're either pro-plaintiff or pro-defendent, I want to draw your attention to the Supreme Court's ruling in this case. As free-marketers, we always talk about how, without the SEC, investors could sue their management for fraud. This, and other vehicles of management's rational self-interest, make sure investors' interests are looked after. What we don't mention enough, I think, is that whent the government removes from the marketplace the competitive advantage that is integrity, investors are at the mercy of the SEC to protect their property rights, a charge the SEC also executes with broken-clock precision. For more on this type of issue, read Alan Greenspan's article in Capitalism: The Unknown Ideal called "The Assault on Integrity". (Greenspan's apostasy notwithstanding)

As in my previous post on regulation, in general, I stress that regulatory bodies like the SEC remove strategic advantages from firms, and drown all interested parties in a sea of mediocrity and subjective selection.

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