Ginsburg and Huq: Concluding Thoughts on "How to Save a Constitutional Democracy" Symposium

Concluding Thoughts

We thank all of the scholars and lawyers who participated in this symposium on our book, How to Save a Constitutional Democracy.  Having such a terrific set of thinkers engage so deeply with our ideas is its own reward, and we urge you to read all the posts—each of which makes its own free-standing contribution.  Still, we cannot resist a response, tying together some of the major themes that emerge in the symposium.

One major theme is the question of how we can get from here to there, in the sense of adopting democracy-enhancing reforms that are incentive-compatible, at a moment that democracy seems to be in some peril.  Developing an agenda put forward by the Protect Democracy organization, lawyer Justin Florence offers a set of four buckets of reforms that should be in the interest of both parties. In the abstract, we agree with his assertion of nonpartisan interest. But, as Florence of course knows, one of the central political facts of our time is that one party seems to have little interest in protecting democracy from erosion. As political scientists have argued, polarization has been somewhat asymmetric.. A threshold question, therefore, must be how to recast attitudes within the Republican Party toward investing in democratic norms.

Professor Jon Michaels engages our claim that resistance to democratic erosion in the United States is somewhat contingent, and so cannot be presumed. While the Republican Party has been mostly willing to go along with President Trump, Michaels points out a vast network of structural constraints that may make our governance system more resilient than it seems at first glance.  Perhaps, then, there will be a moment for reforms. Although we agree with Michaels about the importance of institutions below and outside the three branches of government, we are less confident than he is about the extent to which this network will be able to resist democratic backsliding.

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Constitutional democracy