The scourge of judicial activism raises its silliness quotient just a little higher this week with a ruling that found American currency discriminatory. US District Court Judge John Robertson declared that the venerable greenback puts blind people at such a disadvantage that it violates the Constitution, and ordered the Treasury to revamp its currency offerings forthwith:
The Treasury Department on Wednesday began considering its response to a federal court ruling that ordered changes to paper currency so each denomination could be easily identified by blind and visually impaired people.
The ruling by U.S. District Judge James Robertson came in a lawsuit filed against the department by the American Council of the Blind, a Washington-based advocacy group. The group argued that the government’s failure to differentiate among denominations amounted to illegal discrimination, and Robertson agreed.
“We are still reviewing the court order, and the government has made no determination as to what its next step will be in this matter,” said Charles Miller, a spokesman for the Justice Department’s civil division.
The Treasury Department has 10 days from Tuesday’s ruling to decide whether to appeal.
In his opinion, Robertson ordered the Treasury Department to consider such options as changing the size and color of banknotes for each denomination and adding tactile differences, such as foil, raised numbers or perforations, to the bills.
For my report, I decided to interview a blind person to discover her reaction to the news that Judge Robertson had freed her from the bonds of discrimination. The First Mate’s initial response is hard to quote, because I don’t know how to properly transcribe a snort and a peal of laughter.
There are two major problems with this ruling. First, all due respect to the American Council for the Blind, we don’t really see that a problem with the currency exists. My wife has been blind for almost three decades, a good portion of that time as a single woman or a divorced mother, and for the majority of those periods used currency almost exclusively. The Braille Institute taught her some simple techniques in handling paper currency that allows her to this day to organize it properly. It’s a point that the National Federation for the Blind, a much more representative group for the visually impaired, makes in response to the ruling:
“We believe in solving real problems of discrimination — not in doing gimmicks that look like they solve a problem and could make things actually worse,” James Gashel, executive director for strategic initiatives at the National Federation of the Blind, said Wednesday. “For a federal court to say that we are being discriminated against is simply wrong.”
Even worse, the ruling simply abuses the position of the federal courts. It’s ludicrous on its face to believe that US currency represents a deliberate attempt to discriminate against blind people, who make up one percent of the population, according to the LA Times story. Even if one can argue that changing the bills in the manner Robertson demands would help blind people cope better with cash, that’s a policy question and not a Constitutional issue. That argument belongs in front of Congress, especially since the solution will cost hundreds of millions of dollars at the outset and cause confusion for years to come.
The US has never invalidated any of its currency, unlike most nations; American bills do not expire or get canceled. Even if the Treasury were to complete refit all of its machinery in order to have different sizes or shapes of various denominations with all of those retooling costs, we would still have the regular sized denominations in circulation for years. In fact, both sets of currency would circulate simultaneously, causing all sorts of issues with retail businesses, especially vending machines. Most of them now have the ability to accept paper currency, and all of them would have to be retrofitted to accept both sets of currency with their differing sizes.
Judge Robertson just made himself the poster boy for judicial activism in this ill-advised ruling. Blind people do not need judicial activism in order to operate in the world today. They have a long history of independence in all areas of their lives, including decades of proven expertise in handling cash. They do not require the condescending nature of paternalism, nor do any of us who supposedly benefit from judicial overreach.