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American University Law Review

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In the decade since Citizens United v. FEC, which, while consequential in its own right, is also not responsible for all the ills attributed to it by its detractors, the Supreme Court has decided a stunning number of what this Article terms to be democracy cases. Each respective case is the subject of substantial scholarship within its sphere — voting rights, contribution limits, public financing, partisan gerrymandering, federal bribery law, and sub-variations of each area — Decade of Democracy’s Demise seeks to remove that scholarship from the respective topical silos, and to develop and analyze a heretofore scarcely considered composite.

This Article contends that in democracy cases, the judicial minimalists on the Court have actually engaged, during the decade, in extensive judicial fact-finding in order to justify their legal conclusions. In several of these cases the Court has shown a willingness to ignore the legislative fact-findings of Congress (reflected in the McCain-Feingold legislation struck down in both Citizens United and McCutcheon v. FEC and in the re-authorization of the Voting Rights Act in Shelby County); and of state courts and legislatures (reflected in American Tradition Partnership v. Bullock and Arizona Free Enterprise v. Bennett). Indeed, within the democracy arena, the Court has deferred to legislative fact-finding basically only when the fact-finding body was itself hostile to participatory democracy, and actually acted upon that hostility. Examples of this anti-participatory deference include the Husted voter purge, the Crawford v. Indiana decision in 2008 that, while technically outside the defined decade, spawned numerous carbon copy voter ID laws in states around the nation, and the deference to legislative redistricting measures that, in the instances of Maryland and North Carolina, are not only inconsistent with one-person, one-vote norms, but are openly and transparently acknowledged by their progenitors to be so.

The Decade of Democracy’s Demise asserts that while the short-term impact of the Court’s decisions in the last decade, skews in a favorable direction for conservatives, the long-term impact is not necessarily favorable to either political party, so much as it favors politically and financially empowered interests who seek to employ that empowerment so as to exacerbate their anti-democratic advantages. While this dynamic is temporarily good news for conservative partisans, it may, at some future juncture be good news for liberal partisans (although historically, at least since the Civil Rights era, they are less inclined towards anti-participatory measures), but more importantly than any partisan valence, this Article asserts that the broader consequences for American democracy are grim indeed.

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