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65 UCLA L. Rev. 78 (2018)
How to Lose a Constitutional Democracy

handle is hein.journals/uclalr65 and id is 88 raw text is: 

How to Lose a Constitutional Democracy

Aziz Huq
Tom Ginsburg


Is the United States at risk of democratic backsliding? And would the Constitution prevent such decay?
To many, the 2016 election campaign and the conduct of newly installed President Donald Trump
may be the immediate catalyst for these questions. But structural changes to the socioeconomic
environment and geopolitical shifts are what make the question a truly pressing one. Eschewing a focus
on current events, this Article develops a taxonomy of different threats of democratic backsliding,
the mechanisms whereby they unfold, and the comparative risk of each threat in the contemporary
moment. By drawing on comparative law and politics experience, we demonstrate that there are
two modal paths of democratic decay. We call these authoritarian reversion and constitutional
retrogression. A reversion is a rapid and near-complete collapse of democratic institutions.
Retrogression is a more subtle, incremental erosion to three institutional predicates of democracy
occurring simultaneously: competitive elections; rights of political speech and association; and the
administrative and adjudicative rule of law. We show that over the past quarter- century, the risk of
reversion in democracies around the world has declined, whereas the risk of retrogression has spiked.
The United States is neither exceptional nor immune from these changes. We evaluate the danger of
retrogression as clear and present here (and elsewhere), whereas we think reversion is much less likely.
We further demonstrate that the constitutional safeguards against retrogression are weak. The near-
term prospects of constitutional liberal democracy hence depend less on our institutions than on the
qualities of political leadership, popular resistance, and the quiddities of partisan coalitional politics.


Professors of Law, University of Chicago Law School. Our thanks to Bojan Bugari , Brian
Feinstein, David Fontana, Andrew Friedman, Brandon Garrett, Jason Gluck, Ryan Goodman,
Richard Helmholz, Todd Henderson, Andy Hessick, William Hubbard, Samuel Issacharoff,
Catherine Kim, Brian Leiter, Anup Malani, William Marshall, Richard McAdams, Jennifer
Nou, Richard Pildes, Eric Posner, Gerald Rosenberg, Mike Seidman, and participants in
workshops at the University of Chicago Law School, Princeton University, Yale University, and
the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, for helpful comments. Work on this Article
was supported by the Frank J. Cicero, Jr., Fund. We are very grateful to Quemars Ahmed
and other student editors with the journal for their diligent work. Our errors are our own.

65 UCLA L. REV. 78 (2018)

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