Supreme Court building: Equal Justice Under Law

We are Natasha Raman and Colin Fennelly, two students studying political science, public policy, and law at Dartmouth College. We thoroughly enjoyed writing and researching for The American Leader this past summer.

Most Americans grow up believing that American democracy is invincible. We were taught in high school that our democratic culture is as deep as our Constitution is long-lasting. Violations of constitutional principles and other kinds of democratic erosion happen in other less established republics — not in the United States of America. We embarked on this project to explore this belief.

It is hard to watch the news on TV or scroll through social media nowadays without the word “constitutional crisis” being used to describe the impact of the Trump administration’s policies. Actions like deploying federal troops to Portland to quell Black Lives Matter protests and refusing to acknowledge the outcome of the 2020 election have led many government officials and members of the public to assert that President Trump is breaking constitutional and normative boundaries. Our current political climate begs the question: Are we really facing a constitutional crisis? And if so, can our country recover from this?

To put these questions in context, we investigated constitutional crises throughout American history for a new Storyline, Law & Politics & the Balance of Power. By researching the degree to which these crises threatened our democracy and how they were resolved, we hoped to uncover themes that frame the current political moment.

We found that our current political climate is not unique; our history is littered with moments during which our government and the separation of powers framed by our Constitution were tested, bruised, and even broken. Throughout our research, we discovered that the defiance of judicial authority, assertions of broad executive powers, and racial divisions which aim to tear our republic apart are not new phenomena. They are integral elements on the timeline of our political and legal history.

We hope that this Storyline can serve as a resource to allow you and other visitors to put modern constitutional dilemmas in context, and provide you with further resources to dig deeper into our complex and dynamic constitutional and political history.

Editor’s Note: Natasha and Colin drafted this post at the end of the summer when their internships ended. Little did they know that there was more work to be done this fall, which they willingly took on while juggling classes back at Dartmouth. They were diligent in responding to comments from me and our reviewer, DC Superior Court Judge John Mott. It was also before President Trump and other members of the GOP accelerated their efforts to undermine credibility in the November election.

Written by Natasha Raman and Colin Fennelly

Published on December 3, 2020

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