“Saving Democracy, State by State?”

Miriam Seifter has posted this draft on SSRN (California Law Review). Here is the abstract:

In his Jorde lecture, Professor Steven Levitsky offers an important account of the nation at a crossroads. Down one path is a thriving multiracial democracy; down the other lies democracy’s demise. To avoid the latter path, Levitsky presses the need for major institutional reform, including constitutional amendments to change the structure of the United States government in ways that could stave off minoritarian rule.

This Response offers a modest reframing. A crossroads suggests uncertainty, but democratic decline has already begun. Democratic decline may thus resemble what climate change scholars call a “super wicked” problem: an unfolding emergency where existing institutions and incentives block optimal solutions. Evaluating the state of our democracy this way paints a bleaker picture, but also forces reformers to think creatively and search for all available remedies, even if partial.

In that vein, I focus on the states as one vital site for increased engagement. Reforms to protect U.S. democracy should incorporate smaller-scale steps at the state-level to forge pro-democratic and anti-backsliding initiatives. Reformers should also aim to increase participation and dialogue at subnational levels of government. Strengthening state democracy cannot solve everything, but it might slow or even reverse democratic decline—and neglecting states could accelerate the decline beyond repair.

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