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TOM GINSBURG, University of Chicago

  • When: November 1, 2017, 12 pm
  • Where: ABF Woods Conference Room, 750 N. Lake Shore Drive, 4th Floor, Lakeside, Chicago IL 60611

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How Constitutional Democracy is Lost (and Saved)

This is a book provoked by the election of Donald Trump—but it is not a book about Trump in any direct way. Although we share the grave concern held by many about some of President Trump’s words and deeds, we also think it is important, and even necessary, to step back from the current moment to consider more structural forces at work. Perceptions of impending crisis are hardly new. Using words that could be transposed forward two hundred-odd years with only minor alternations, the great British politician and novelist Benjamin Disraeli worried about the “disintegration of society into ‘two nations; between whom there is no intercourse and no sympathy ….’ An irresponsible, self-aggrandizing aristocracy confronted by an exploited people led by agitators with ‘wild ambitions and sinister and selfish ends.’” A wider lens is needed to place today’s concerns in proper perspective. As students of law and political institutions, we think it is especially important to think hard about how networks of laws, regulations, and especially constitutional rules in place now can either facilitate democracy’s derogation, or prevent it. Because we are trained and work as scholars of what is called ‘comparative constitutional design,’ we think it is especially important to ask general questions about how our basic legal institutions— the ones familiar from a perusal of a nation’s constitution and associated traditions—will respond to the risk of democratic decline. The problem is hardly parochial in scope. Rather, it is striking that many of the institutional and political dynamics legible in the United States today in the wake of Trump’s victory are also apparent in other liberal democracies. The interaction of political strategy and legal frameworks may vary with local circumstances, but patterns can also be observed across countries and continents. The forces at work in the United States are not so much idiosyncratic local tempests as they are durable weather systems that determine the possibilities for political action. They are the conditions of our near political future, and so cry out for more general investigation.

How Constitutional Democracy is Lost (and Saved)

Courtesy of University of Chicago

Tom Ginsburg 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 Judicial Reputation (2015). He currently co-directs the Comparative Constitutions Project, an effort funded by the National Science Foundation to gather and analyze the constitutions of all independent nation-states since 1789. Before entering law teaching, he served as a legal adviser at the Iran-US Claims Tribunal, The Hague, Netherlands, and he continues to work with numerous international development agencies and foreign governments on legal and constitutional reform. He is a member of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences.

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