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Research Report

Democracy & Justice: Collected Writings, Vol. XII

Summary: This volume is a sample of the Brennan Center’s work on all fronts in the fight for democracy and justice in 2018.

Published: March 29, 2019

Introduction from the President

Dear Friends,

In the great fight for the future of constitutional democracy, 2018 was a breakthrough year. 

Around the world, amid economic and demographic change, broken democratic systems have produced a backlash. We see the rise of autocracy and a normalization of nativism, misogyny, and abuse. Our politics have realigned in ways that challenge the very constitutional order. We are always on the edge, one tweet away from a crisis.

But at this time of unease, something big has begun to stir. Citizens have made it clear that the best way to respond to attacks on democracy is to strengthen democracy. 

At this moment, the Brennan Center for Justice at NYU School of Law stepped forward as a leading national force for change. Independent and rigorous, we fight fear with facts. We generate solutions and bold reforms. The reports, briefs, articles, and talks in this annual volume reflect the energy and scope of our work. And our partnerships with the impressive thought leaders you’ll read in these pages is a key part of what we do to advance change. 

So much of this work came to a head in the November election. Despite harsh voter suppression, turnout was the highest since 1914. Ballot measures ended gerrymandering in Michigan, Utah, Missouri, and Colorado. In the biggest expansion of the franchise in decades, Florida restored voting rights to 1.4 million people with past felony convictions. Michigan and Nevada enacted automatic voter registration. The Brennan Center was proud to have written many of these measures. Weeks later, federal criminal justice reform became law, with our strong support and partnership with a broad coalition of unlikely allies. 

It marked the start of a true democracy movement in America – launched not by lawyers or politicians, but by millions of citizens taking matters into their own hands. 

Now we’re fighting to seize this opportunity, in Congress and in the states. This “ideas primary” will help shape the upcoming presidential race and build momentum for change. 

Justice William J. Brennan Jr. once said: “The Constitution will endure as a vital charter of human liberty as long as there are those with the courage to defend it, the vision to interpret it, and the fidelity to live by it.” The Brennan Center is proud to bear his name and to carry on its work in that spirit. Thank you for your support at this time of testing for our country. 

Michael Waldman, President