Sharing a chapter I have written for The Oxford Handbook of American Election Law (Eugene Mazo, ed.) (2023, forthcoming). The chapter, among other things, stresses the ways that the U.S. Supreme Court’s current approach to the associational freedom of political parties significantly constrains party reform strategies. Given the manifest need for party regulation in the interest of a healthy democracy and the recent buzz around Lee Drutman’s report and op ed arguing for more and better parties, this seems a good time to share.
Tired of the 24 hour news cycle? Check out the final issue of the inaugural Fordham Law’s Voting Rights and Democracy Forum. With articles written by both established scholars in the field and JD candidates, it is a refreshing change of pace. Richard Briffault argues that New York’s first round of independent redistricting was an “epic fail.“
“In 2014, following passage in two successive legislatures, New York voters ratified amendments to the state constitution to change both the process and substantive rules governing the decennial redistricting of the state’s legislature and congressional delegation. . . . . Sadly, the new process employed in the 2022 redistricting was an epic fail. This Essay examines the first test of this new constitutional procedure and contends that the IRC, the state legislature, and the subsequent judicial intervention, all flunked it.”
Other crisp and timely articles in the volume include:
Walter Horn reviews Sam Issacharoff’s new book, DEMOCRACY UNMOORED: POPULISM AND THE CORRUPTION OF POPULAR SOVEREIGNTY (Oxford University Press 2023).
A thanks to Lee Drutman for resurfacing a 2022 article in the American Political Science Review, based on an original dataset of political parties in 20 Western democracies, suggesting that having more elected officials who are women associated with a political party may reduce levels of hostility to that party by those in the opposite party. This may, of course, require making it easier for younger women to run for office and to serve as legislators: A Time exclusive reports Representative Anna Paulina Luna (Republican Florida) will be “only the 12th member of Congress to give birth while in office.”
“Second, independently of whether women representatives behave differently from men, women’s descriptive representation affects both citizens’ and journalists’ political perceptions. US-based studies show that respondents hold gender-trait stereotypes, seeing women politicians as more caring and compassionate, more likely to compromise and build legislative consensus and having better interpersonal skills.”
Didi Kuo and I recently spoke with Daniel Stid, Executive Director of Lyceum Labs about our recent article, Associational Party Building: A Path to Rebuilding Democracy. Daniel pushed us on the questions such as whether we are calling for a turn away from national politics and how we think about parties past. We reminded party skeptics that they are part of the party already. A lightly edited version of the full conversation appears on the Art of Association.
Didi Kuo (Center on Democracy, Development and the Rule of Law, Stanford University) and I are excited to share our new article, Associational Party-Building: A Path to Rebuilding Democracy, which is out today in the Columbia Law Review Forum.
This Piece advances a fundamentally different orientation to democracy reform. It starts from the premise that the ultimate normative goals of democratic reform should be policy responsiveness and the restoration of confidence in government through its functionality. And it looks to ways to achieve those goals without legislative intervention. Voters should have easier access to the ballot. Legislatures must be un-gerrymandered, and economic elites, like hyper-partisan ideologues, should have less inﬂuence over politics. But, we argue, procedural reforms do little to ensure government responsiveness. Political parties, by contrast, if systematically strengthened as organizations with deeper ties to voters, have enormous potential to boost not just voter turnout, but democracy itself.
Political parties are the only civic associations with the capacity to organize at a scale that matters and the only intermediaries that both communicate with voters and govern. Yet it is no surprise that many Americans, including democracy reformers, are skeptical about political parties. They seem incapable of performing their basic representative functions. Further, pundits and scholars focus much more on parties as vehicles for funding elections, as policy-demanders, or as heuristic brands governed by political elites, rather than as intermediaries.
Our Piece argues that Americans need to shed their anti-partyism. We explain why Americans need strong parties, how we should conceive of them, and how we might get there. Distilling and further developing an argument I first made in 2019, we explain that reestablishing parties as strong intermediaries with linkages to civic groups and citizens is likely to be an effective strategy, in the long run, for rebuilding trust in democratic institutions overall. Parties with the commitment and capacity to engage in mobilization between election cycles, including through local civic groups, have the potential to bring about the responsiveness essential for democratic governance and public trust. The Piece both articulates the basis for these theoretical hypotheses and offers preliminary data to support them.
In all, we advance a fundamentally different conception of political parties in the hopes of setting a research agenda capable of more systematically testing the hypothesis. Over the next few days, I look forward to sharing more details about our argument.
Nikita Lalwani at Monkey Cage has an interview with Nicholas Eubank and Adriane Fresh (Duke University), the authors of a provocative new study based on data showing that counties subject to Section 5 pre-clearance mandates under Voting Rights Act would later evidence higher rates of Black incarceration.
Looking forward to reading Jake M. Grumbach‘s (Department of Political Science, University of Washington) new book, Laboratories Against Democracy: How National Parties Transformed State Politics, which was profiled a few weeks ago on NPR. In the meanwhile, I have been reading the earlier article, Laboratories of Democratic Backsliding. The article uses “a new comprehensive measure of electoral performance”–one that considers a range of factors such as “average polling place wait times, same-day and automatic voter registration policies, and felon disenfranchisement” and then uses “Bayesian modeling to estimate a latent measure of democratic performance.” The conclusion is that between 2000-2018 states have witnessed “democratic backsliding.” What explains this? Here is where the article offers an analysis that supports what many observers have already concluded: “Republican control of state government reduces democratic performance.” And that this not party competition, polarization, demographic change or a range of other factors is the significant driver of the backsliding that is occurring.
There is obviously lots of nuance to the findings, but what I think is most interesting is that this approach potentially offers a starting point for scholars to begin to think about where democracy is working best (including by more ambitious measures such as policy responsiveness) in the United States–and from there to think about what we can do to nudge the rest of the country in that direction.
The First Reconstruction: Black Politics in America from the Revolution to the Civil War (UNC Press 2021) by Van Gosse, Franklin and Marshall College. At a conference this week with nonlegal academics, I was made aware of this new book. I am genuinely looking forward to taking a step back from the daily partisan fracas to reading this and thought it might be of interest to others on the list serve.
It may be difficult to imagine that a consequential black electoral politics evolved in the United States before the Civil War, for as of 1860, the overwhelming majority of African Americans remained in bondage. Yet free black men, many of them escaped slaves, steadily increased their influence in electoral politics over the course of the early American republic. Despite efforts to disfranchise them, black men voted across much of the North, sometimes in numbers sufficient to swing elections. In this meticulously-researched book, Van Gosse offers a sweeping reappraisal of the formative era of American democracy from the Constitution’s ratification through Abraham Lincoln’s election, chronicling the rise of an organized, visible black politics focused on the quest for citizenship, the vote, and power within the free states.
Full of untold stories and thorough examinations of political battles, this book traces a First Reconstruction of black political activism following emancipation in the North. From Portland, Maine and New Bedford, Massachusetts to Brooklyn and Cleveland, black men operated as voting blocs, denouncing the notion that skin color could define citizenship.
Joshua Sellers’ new article “Race, Reckoning, Reform, and the Limits of the Law of Democracy” is a timely reminder to all of us that the consequences of redistricting are not just about the health of our democracy. Partisan gerrymanders impact the lives of ordinary people by defining the policies that will (or more often won’t) be adopted. And those consequences are likely to be worse for Black communities–at least, that has been true these last two cycles.
On the flip side, the Article reminds us that Black political participation and electoral success should not be “the sine qua non of Black political progress.” They are not ends in themselves. The real measure of the VRA’s successes are the returns of Black political participation–wealth, health, and welfare. And lately, those returns are low even when the Democratic Party is in office. Sellers rightly criticizes the democracy reform community for overemphasizing legal rights “with little to no consideration of how those rights translate into substantive gains.”
For the curious, Sellers uses Wisconsin to illustrate the disparate impact of the state’s partisan gerrymander on the state’s Black residents. Republican control for the past decade meant the rejection of the ACA’s expansion of Medicaid and a defunding of public education, for a start.
A new article by Richard Johnson, Queen Mary, University of London explores conflicts with the Reagan administration over the 1982 amendments to the Voting Rights Act. It pushes back against the view that Republican support can be explained by the party’s belief that the Supreme Court would strike down its most expansive provisions. The article appears in Studies in American Political Development.
Abstract: Republican support for the 1982 Voting Rights Act (VRA) extension is a puzzle for scholars of racial policy coalitions. The extension contained provisions that were manifestly antithetical to core principles of the “color-blind” policy alliance said to dominate the GOP. Recent scholarship has explained this puzzling decision by arguing that conservatives were confident that the VRA’s most objectionable provisions could be undone by the federal bureaucracy and judiciary, while absolving Republicans of the blame of being against voting rights. This article suggests that the picture is more complicated. . . . .