The Volokh Conspiracy

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Shall We Focus on Saule Omarova's Actual Plans?


I can't speak about whether Biden nominee Saule Omarova would be a good banking regulator, or about just what she believes is the right banking policy. But I'm pretty sure the following are all irrelevant to the nomination:

[1.] That, at age 28, in 1995, she was arrested for shoplifting and admitted to stealing the items. Obviously bad behavior, and I'm not one to pooh-pooh shoplifting; but while it is a significant crime, it is still rightly seen as a comparatively minor crime. And at 26 years' remove, it seems a minor matter indeed, which I find hard to see as relevant to her qualities today.

[2.] That her ideas are supposedly shaped by her upbringing in the Soviet Union. Sen. Patrick Toomey opined that she "'clearly has an aversion to anything like free-market capitalism,' … citing examples of her academic work" (of course a perfectly legitimate criticism, if it fairly captures her work), and added, "You could ask yourself, 'Where would a person even come up with these ideas?' Well, maybe a contributing factor could be in if a person grew up in the former Soviet Union, and went to Moscow State University, and attended there on a Vladimir Lenin Academic Scholarship."

Unfortunately, native-born Americans do just fine at coming up with socialist ideas, and of course many people raised under the Soviet system know especially well the problems with those ideas. Why not focus just on the ideas she actually expressed as a scholar, rather than on her schooling in her late teens and early twenties (in a time and place where aspiring university students would be unwise to turn up their noses at a scholarship named after Lenin).

[3.] That she wrote a thesis on "Karl Marx's Economic Analysis and the Theory of Revolution in [Das Kapital]" when she was a Soviet college student in the late 1980s, and where I expect a thesis on Milton Friedman's economic analysis would not have been well received. The thesis appears to be unavailable, but I very much doubt that we can learn things from what she wrote when she was a 22-year-old Soviet college student beyond what we can learn from what she wrote when she was an American law professor.

[4.] That she didn't resign from the Young Communist Union (Komsomol), which Soviet teenagers routinely joined if they knew what was good for them, and which they generally just aged out of (until it was disbanded in 1991). Sen. John Kennedy engaged in that particular line of questioning.

Again, her work as a scholar is entirely fair game for determining her qualifications; and I'm skeptical of the claim that "her critics [are] singling her out because she is a woman and a minority"—I suspect they are singling her out because she's a nominee of the opposite party, and that's what one does nowadays. But going back 30 years in her education, and 25 years for an arrest for a minor crime, makes no sense, however much it may be par for the course in American politics today.