Sujit Choudhry on Democratic Decline and the Rise of Autocracy

Eminent scholar and expert on constitutional law Sujit Choudhry believes democracies around the world are under threat. Sujit Choudhry, in a chapter included in the forthcoming book Constitutional Democracies in Crisis?, points to a recent tweet by former United States Attorney General Eric Holder, in which he called the removal of Special Counsel Robert Mueller by President Donald Trump an “absolute red line” (Law.nyu.edu). If this “red line” is crossed, Holder says, then mass protests by the American people in support of both Mueller and the office of special counsel are in order.  Indeed, says Sujit Choudhry, in this day and age, there is no bright line separating democracy and autocracy, rather these two types of regimes sit at either end of a continuum. The crossing of constitutional red lines, the violation of constitutional norms, is what may swing a once liberal democracy in the direction of autocracy. This process takes different forms. Sujit Choudhry points to the example of the Law and Justice Party (PiS) in Poland, see (Works.bepress.com). This nationalist party has, since their decisive victory in the 2015 election, attempted to consolidate its hold on power through the elimination or subversion of constitutional safeguards. The party did this not by forcing through sweeping changes to the constitution but by making incremental, largely technical adjustments to the levers of power. And yet this was sufficient to completely alter the political terrain in Poland, cementing the PiS’s status as the dominant party for the foreseeable future. This process, where a government wrongly exercises legal authority for the purpose of grabbing power, falls under the rubric of what Sujit Choudhry calls “democratic backsliding.” He parallels Poland’s example with that of the United States, citing Holder’s invocation of the term “red line” as posted on twitter.com. Such absolutes, he says, are necessary when both sides of the debate have taken the position that “there are few, if any, right or wrong answers at all.”

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