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This collection on American democracy challenges and complements blog posts and opinion pieces that are typical staples of the 24/7 news cycle in the lead up to US elections. You'll find reports about election and campaign administration, voting access and participation, government performance and perceptions, the role of the media in civil society, and more.

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"VOTE!" by Paul Sableman licensed under CC BY 2.0

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Unlocking the Potential of the Congressional Review Act

February 23, 2022

The Congressional Review Act (CRA) permits Congress to overturn rules issued by federal agencies with a simple majority in each chamber. Traditionally, the CRA has been used as a negative tool, to cancel regulations adopted during the prior administration, including the 14 Obama-era rules Congress overturned during the first four months of the Trump administration. This Issue Brief by Professors Jody Freeman and Matthew Stephenson of Harvard Law School argues that the CRA's fast-track procedures have "substantially greater unrealized potential" and could be used as an affirmative tool to advance policy priorities without being subject to filibuster. In light of unprecedented congressional obstructionism, Freeman and Stephenson argue that exploring this nontraditional use of the CRA is "essential to the health of our democracy" and to returning Congress to its job of legislating.

Government

Judicial Nominations Update December 2021

December 8, 2021

Every day our federal courts decide cases critical to our rights— from voting rights to environmental justice to immigrants' rights. Under the previous administration, judicial vacancies were filled at a rapid pace with conservative judges who were largely young, white men and oftentimes underqualified.The Biden-Harris administration and the Senate now have an opportunity to diversify the courts by nominating and confirming qualified diverse, progressive judges. With the new administration well into its first year in office and the Senate finished with the first half of its term, this report assesses the progress or lack thereof that has been made in these critical areas.

A Dangerous Adventure: No Safeguards Would Protect Basic Liberties from an Article V Convention

October 7, 2021

Despite their support for all kinds of constitutional amendments, many advocates on both the left and the right oppose the calling of a constitutional convention. This issue brief examines the main reason for this: namely that once an Article V convention convened, it could pursue any agenda it chose regardless of the original intent.

Government

Democratizing the Filibuster

May 1, 2021

In our polarized age, the Senate filibuster effectively requires sixty votes to pass most legislation. This requirement has produced not bipartisan cooperation, but gridlock. Today, many items on President Biden's legislative agenda—confronting climate change, fixing our immigration system, and promoting civil rights and voting rights, among others—are likely dead on arrival thanks to this procedural roadblock.To overcome minority obstruction, many have urged the abolition of the filibuster. Doing so would allow the current Senate majority, which represents 56% of the U.S. population, to address pressing national problems. But it would pave the way for minority rule in the future, when, as has often been the case in recent years, a Senate majority represents a minority of the U.S. population.This Issue Brief proposes an alternative approach to filibuster reform, one that would allow Senate majorities representing population majorities to effectively govern, while still serving as a check on minority rule. This reform has two components. The first is the familiar proposal to eliminate the current version of the filibuster, so that the support of three-fifths of senators would no longer be required to proceed to a final vote. The second and more novel element of our proposal is the replacement of the current filibuster rule with an alternative cloture rule that would require, as a precondition for ending debate, the assent of a majority of senators who collectively represent a larger share of the U.S. population than the senators who oppose cloture. Furthermore, we would extend this new rule to those Senate votes that are not currently covered by the three-fifths cloture rule, including budget reconciliation and confirmation of appointments.