Values versus Policies

Last Sunday, our pastor preached on social justice. She focused on the injustices committed against American Indians. She specifically mentioned water rights for the Gila River Indian Community. While clerking for the Arizona Supreme Court we had a couple of water cases. One of them involved GRIC. Here is the opening paragraph of that case:

This is an interlocutory appeal by the San Carlos Apache Tribe (“Apache Tribe” or “Tribe”) from an order issued in the Gila River general stream adjudication. See Ariz. Rev. Stat. (“A.R.S.”) §§ 45-251 to -264 (2003) (authorizing general stream adjudications). The central issue is whether claims advanced by the Tribe (and the United States on the Tribe’s behalf) are precluded by a consent decree entered in 1935 by the United States District Court for the District of Arizona. We conclude that the decree precludes the Tribe’s claims to additional water from the Gila River mainstem, but not to water from tributaries of the Gila.

Full opinion here. Another water case here.

These cases are complex. They also epitomize the real tension in the practice of law between doing what is right and respecting process. Respecting process sounds so inferior in the abstract, but in practice it is paramount. (It’s also easier to see when the result is in favor of a sympathetic party. E.g. if honoring a settled decision doesn’t seem important to you, than perhaps excluding evidence obtained in violation of a procedural requirement does.)

Listening to the pastor’s call to action toward the end of her sermon made me wonder about how do we act on such complex issues. The next time this case comes to the Arizona Supreme Court, should the church submit an amicus brief begging the court to reverse its res judicata holding?

Then it occurred to me that the way we act is by promoting values. Whatever, the right answer is regarding distributing water among the various parties in the West, we will get a better answer if we value others as equals. We’ll get a better answer if we remember the importance of things beyond monetary measures. We’ll get a better answer if we remember to treat others as we would like to be treated.

I think it is perfectly appropriate for the church to promote these values and suggest that these values should impact our policies.

3 thoughts on “Values versus Policies”

  1. It’s an important point. The details of a policy are about outcomes. Values determine what kind of outcomes we are trying to reach with policy.

    I think confusing policy and values is a big part of rancor between people in different political camps. Sometimes people disagree about policy because they have different values, but often they have similar values but disagree about what policies will achieve the outcomes made desirable by those values. I know many conservatives who care about poor people as much as any liberal, for example, but they disagree about what policies will help people out of poverty.

    You make another point, that sometimes a policy doesn’t achieve justice in a particular case, but its important to apply the policy anyway. That’s because in our imperfect world, the best we can achieve is a kind of justice on average. That is what the rule of law achieves, and it has proven to be a whole better than any alternatives.

  2. I know many conservatives who care about poor people as much as any liberal, for example, but they disagree about what policies will help people out of poverty.

    I think it would be so valuable for there to be a national discussion about what it would take to care for the poor without mandatory contribution to the funds. There is a real benefit in that the giver is fulfilled in giving. But the downside is the giver has to make up for the non-giver.

    We could find the answer to: How much would the average contributor have to give in order to provide necessities to the poor, if contribution was voluntary? Then we could determine whether it is feasible or not.

    The problem with not having the information is that I go on assuming you can’t make a voluntary program work and thus assuming those against welfare are selfish; and those against welfare who care for the poor assume I don’t value personal choice.

  3. I think it would be so valuable for there to be a national discussion about what it would take to care for the poor without mandatory contribution to the funds.

    That would be fascinating.

    Of course, it would be more complicated than how much would voluntary givers have to give to support the same programs at the same levels they are funded by taxes. A big part of the choice is what kind of program you want to fund.

Leave a Reply