December 9, 2021

Together We Can Protect and Strengthen Our Democracy

Russ Feingold President


Russ Feingold
ACS President Russ Feingold

This week, President Biden virtually hosted world leaders for the first of two Summits for Democracy, which aim to bring together leaders from government, civil society, and the private sector to set forth an affirmative agenda for democratic renewal. The Summit focused on shared challenges facing democracies across the globe, with a particular focus on three key themes: rising authoritarianism, fighting corruption or kleptocracy, and promoting respect for human rights. These aren’t just issues affecting far away countries, here at home we are in the midst of an existential crisis as we work to confront these challenges and refortify our own democracy.

It is hard to deny that democracy has seen better days. We are witnessing a democratic decline across the globe, including disturbing signs of democratic retreat here at home. Authoritarianism is on the rise as elected autocrats fine tune their playbook in countries as diverse as Venezuela and Hungary. According to Freedom House, which tracks the state of democracy across the globe, we are experiencing the 15th consecutive year of democratic decline globally.

It’s easy to get discouraged by this, and I do myself at times. That said, these trends underscore the critical importance of organizations like ACS, which are committed to preserving and strengthening our democratic legitimacy. In fact, it is to confront threats to democracy that ACS was founded. This is one of our driving missions to this day, to preserve and strengthen our democratic legitimacy.

Democracy rarely vanishes overnight. Instead, it erodes over time as institutions are weakened, elections become meaningless, and human or civil rights disappear. Putting your finger on what needs to be done in these situations isn’t always obvious because the erosion is piecemeal and may be easier to see in hindsight than in present day.

This is one reason we hosted our recent program, “Saving Democracy,” and are currently producing a multi-episode podcast series on the State of Democracy, to raise awareness of the trendlines both abroad and here at home. If you missed the program this week, you can watch the video on our website. You can find our podcast series wherever you listen to Broken Law. The first episode of the series features Mike Abramowitz from Freedom House and focuses on the rise of authoritarianism. The upcoming two episodes examine the interplay between democracy and human rights, and the critical role of civil society in supporting democracy.

ACS will continue its focus on how to preserve and protect our democracy. Looking ahead to next month, January 6th is a solemn day, but it must also be a call to action. We are in the midst of planning programming on what, if anything, we have done in the past year to prevent January 6th from becoming a blueprint for future insurrections. We hope you will join us for this upcoming program, which is scheduled for January 6th at 6p.m. ET. Stay tuned for more details.

We have also been planning for the 2022 midterms, with a particular focus on ramping up voter education efforts and increasing voter engagement on down ballot races, including attorneys general, secretaries of state, and state court judges. These positions, often more than the positions at the top of our ballots, keep our democracy functioning.

Our Path to the Bench initiative is continuing to make great strides in building a progressive pipeline of diverse, qualified candidates for the federal bench. We applaud the Biden-Harris administration’s pace thus far in nominating federal judges and are simultaneously urging for an even more concerted commitment to nominating judges in the coming months, as we cannot be certain what the make-up of the U.S. Senate will be after next year. Securing a federal judiciary that actually reflects the diversity of the public it serves is critical to building trust in our courts and strengthening the legitimacy of our judicial system more broadly. If you missed this week’s article in the NY Times about the administration’s success with judges, you can read it here.

The threat to democracy at home and abroad looms large. This can feel overwhelming at times as we think about the litany of challenges before us. But, we cannot afford to become complacent. I encourage you to engage on those issues that either motivate you the most or on which you think you can have the greatest impact. Maybe it starts by talking to your friends about Supreme Court reform or sharing content and resources to increase public awareness about what’s happening in your own state. It is our collective engagement that will protect and strengthen our democracy. Thank you for being a part of this progressive legal movement!