Democracies are in danger. Around the world, a rising wave of populist leaders threatens to erode the core structures of democratic self rule. In the United States, the election of Donald Trump marked a decisive turning point for many. What kind of president calls the news media the “enemy of the American people,” or sees a moral equivalence between violent neo-Nazi protesters in paramilitary formation and residents of a college town defending the racial and ethnic diversity of their homes? Yet, whatever our concerns about the current president, we can be assured that the Constitution offers safeguards to protect against lasting damage—or can we? How to Save a Constitutional Democracy mounts an urgent argument that we can no longer afford to be complacent. Constitutional rules can either hinder or hasten the decline of democratic institutions. The checks and balances of the federal government, a robust civil society and media, and individual rights—such as those enshrined in the First Amendment—do not necessarily succeed as bulwarks against democratic decline. Rather, the sobering reality for the United States is that, to a much greater extent than is commonly realized, the Constitution’s design makes democratic erosion more, not less, likely. But we—and the rest of the world—can do better. The authors conclude by laying out practical steps for how laws and constitutional design can play a more positive role in managing the risk of democratic decline.
Tom Ginsburg is Leo Spitz Professor of Law, University of Chicago, and a professor of political science. He is also director of the Comparative Constitutions Project He focuses on comparative and international law from an interdisciplinary perspective. He holds BA, JD, and PhD degrees from the University of California at Berkeley. His books include Judicial Review in New Democracies (2003), which won the C. Herman Pritchett Award from the American Political Science Association; The Endurance of National Constitutions (2009), which also won a best book prize from APSA; Constitutions in Authoritarian Regimes (2014); and Law and Development in Middle-Income Countries (2014)..
Aziz Huq is is the Frank and Bernice J. Greenberg Professor of Law at the University of Chicago. His scholarship focuses on how institutional design influences individual rights and liberties. He clerked for Judge Robert D. Sack of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit and then for Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg of the Supreme Court of the United States. Before teaching, he led the Brennan Center’s project on Liberty and National Security and was a senior consultant analyst for the International Crisis Group.