Perhaps no one is more attuned to the exigencies of social justice than George Soros. Having lived through the holocaust and experienced firsthand the death of loved ones, he understands intimately the perils that systemic injustice imposes on the powerless. His lifelong interest in philosophy has given him a perspective seemingly unique among his elite peers. He’s come to view uplifting the underprivileged and forgotten not just as something he should do but as something he must do. This sense of civic obligation on opensocietyfoundations.org has driven his prolific philanthropy as much as his philosophy has informed it.
Recently Soros has grabbed attention by taking his fight for justice to its source – the district attorneys and judges who administer it. Through his foundations, he has spent over $3 million backing the campaigns of reform-minded prosecutors in local elections across the country. From a social advocacy standpoint this is a brilliant play because district attorney posts are often stepping stones to larger things, like judgeships and positions in the federal courts. District attorneys also wield the power to dismiss charges. This strategy of going after local DA’s has aroused the ire of his political opponents who view his “outside meddling” as unfair.
As mandatory minimum sentencing has revoked the latitude judges once exercised across the country in dolling out fair sentences, the discretion to bring or dismiss cases enjoyed by district attorneys has become perhaps the system’s most important safety valve. George Soros sees electing the right prosecutors as a way to remedy the notorious inequities of the drug war as well as a path towards easing the staggering over representation of certain minority groups in the US criminal justice system.
One of Soros’ donation vehicles, Florida Safety and Justice, infused the campaign of a female former prosecutor named Aramis Ayala with nearly all of its $1.4 million dollar budget. Most of that was spent on television ads. The ads focused on Ms. Ayala’s contention that her opponent, Jeff Ashton, had favored discriminatory policies which lead to higher incarceration rates for minorities. In the end the voters agreed with Ms. Ayala and elected her to be their prosecutor, ending incumbent’s reign after just one term.
Similarly in the town of Caddo Parish, Louisiana a Soros backed candidate named James Stewart defeated incumbent district attorney Dhu Thompson. Thompson was known for hard-line stances on law and order and some had contended his lop-sided prosecutorial record was itself evidence of discrimination. Once again the public sided with the Soros backed progressive candidate.
Despite being a widely recognized financial genius Soros himself may not be able to take sole credit for this newfound strategy of justice reform. Recently a group called the Women Donors Network released a study confirming that fully 95 percent of all prosecutors in the United States are white and 75 percent are male. It’s long been known that prosecutors, with their unique discretionary powers to instate or dismiss charges, operate at the very hub of the criminal justice wheel. They can act as a force multiplier with any implicit bias no matter how small being repeated every day and on every case across a career that may last decades. That can really add up.
Weather Soros has concocted this scheme on his own or is merely picking it up and running with it, it’s been a successful gambit thus far. Those in his cross hairs have been put on notice.