In recent years, many have despaired over America’s political dysfunction. A recent conference at University of Texas asked, “Is America Governable?” Some, like Mann and Ornstein, have contended that “it’s even worse than it looks.” Others, like Levinson, have claimed that we face a “crisis of governance.” Scholzman, Verba, and Brady have criticized “the broken promise of American democracy,” Gutmann and Thompson have lamented the breakdown in “the spirit of compromise,” and Lessig has argued that we have “lost” our republic through the corruption of money.
More generally, there is considerable talk of dysfunction, breakdown, and failure in the air these days. Just consider these titles: Bruce Ackerman, The Failure of the Founding Fathers, not to mention The Decline and Fall of the American Republic; Ronald Dworkin, Is Democracy Possible Here?; Alan Wolfe, Does American Democracy Still Work?; and Sanford Levinson, Our Undemocratic Constitution: Where the Constitution Goes Wrong (and How We the People Can Correct It), along with Framed: America’s 51 Constitutions and the Crisis of Governance.
We plan a conference that will assess such claims about dysfunction, breakdown, and failure. But unlike some prior conferences, it will focus on constitutional connections, causes, and cures. Taking up the forms and manifestations of dysfunction, breakdown, and failure, the conference will ask “What, if anything, does the Constitution have to do with all this?” For example, are we experiencing a constitutional failure, as distinguished from a moral failure, a political failure, an institutional failure, or a failure of policy that may or may not be directly related to the Constitution? Are the lamented dysfunction, breakdown, and failure caused by the Constitution? Do they stem from a feature or defect of the Constitution? Do they result from constitutional requirements? Are they made more likely by our constitutional design?
The conference will address not only whether there are such constitutional connections to and causes of dysfunction, but also whether any proposed cures would likely alleviate it. For example, Putnam has proposed building social capital. Sandel and Ackerman have called for reinvigorating the civic and deliberative dimensions of political and constitutional discourse and practice. Seidman has proposed “giving up on the Constitution.” Levinson, Lessig, and Sabato have proposed amending the Constitution or holding a constitutional convention to adopt a new one. Will such proposals alleviate dysfunction or will the conditions giving rise to them virtually insure that they will fail?
Professor Cass R. Sunstein of Harvard Law School will give the Friday keynote address and Professor Jack M. Balkin of Yale Law School will give the Saturday luncheon address. The papers and proceedings will be published in Boston University Law Review.
For a full conference schedule and additional details, please visit the link below.