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Many fundamental issues that were left unresolved in 1789-90 when New York City was the capital of the United States and the First Congress convened at Federal Hall have renewed relevance today and pose new challenges. Here from the very place where the founding government set the course for the nation, we regularly convene again to probe issues at the foundation of American democracy.

DEBATE DEFENDS DEMOCRACY launched online in 2020 “live” from Federal Hall to explore these issues. Each program is moderated by a journalist with deep historical and topical knowledge who leads an expert panel through consideration of a contemporary Constitutional question. The lens of history has brought powerful resonance to such compelling topics as sustaining the peaceful transfer of power, balancing pandemic restrictions with individual liberties, whether the electoral college should be abolished, the dynamics of majority versus minority dominance in the Senate and the House, and controversy over proposed changes to the Supreme Court.

The celebrated graphic artist Milton Glaser, who conceived the iconic I Love New York logo, encapsulated New Day at Federal Hall’s overarching theme visually and verbally. He synthesized its goal in three words: Debate Defends Democracy. To inspire a renewed constructive covenant, Glaser conjured up the outstretched hand of George Washington from Federal Hall’s iconic statue, reaching across the aisle in the spirit of compromise.

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Series host:

Sam Roberts

A journalist and author, Sam Roberts has written over a dozen books about American history and New York City. He is also a reporter for the New York Times where his by-line has been familiar to readers for many years.

Series moderators have included:

John Avlon

Author, columnist and commentator, he is a senior political analyst at CNN and well-known for his “Reality Check” segments on the daily morning show New Day.

Jami Floyd

Formerly the local host of “All Things Considered” and legal editor in the WNYC public radio newsroom, she leads WNYC’s Race & Justice Unit.

Margaret Hoover

Host of PBS’ “Firing Line with Margaret Hoover,” she is also a CNN political commentator, and a best-selling author.

Emily Bazelon

Staff writer at the New York Times Magazine, co-host of the podcast Slate Political Gabfest, she is a best-selling author and the Truman Capote Fellow for Creative Writing and Law at Yale Law School.

Ari Berman

A former senior contributing writer for The Nation magazine, he has written about American politics, civil rights, and the intersection of money and politics.

Panel participants have included:

Distinguished program panel participants with a broad range of expertise and perspective have included, among others: Lonnie Bunch III, director of the Smithsonian; David Cole, ACLU’s national legal director; Anne Applebaum, Pulitzer Prize-winning historian; Eddie Glaude, Jr., chair of Princeton’s Department of African-American Studies; Meredith Bergman, sculptor of Women’s Rights Pioneers Monument in Central Park; David Frum, author and senior editor at The Atlantic; Franita Tolson, vice dean and law professor at the University of Southern California Gould School of Law; Ilya Shapiro, director of the Cato Institute’s Center for Constitutional Studies; Amel Ahmed, professor of political science at the University of Massachusetts Amherst; and Aaron Tang, professor of law at UC Davis School of Law. Several programs have been produced in partnership with NYU’s Brennan Center for Justice and have featured its president Michael Waldman or Brennan Fellows including Wilfred Codrington and Victoria Bassetti.

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Saving Democracy

June 15, 2022 — 5:00 PM EST

Presented with The Common Good

In recent years the fragility of our democracy has been exposed. Founded to offer both freedom and rights, this form of governance and it’s permanence, cannot be taken for granted. Join award-winning journalist Richard Wolffe in conversation with political scientist and author, Yascha Mounk. Together, they examine the challenges and threats to democracy today, and Mounk, known for his unconventional insights, offers ideas and proposals as to how this now fragile system can endure and thrive.

Moderator: Richard Wolffe

Richard Wolffe is an award-winning journalist and political analyst for MSNBC, appearing frequently on MSNBC’s Countdown with Keith Olbermann and Hardball with Chris Matthews. He covered the entire length of Barack Obama’s presidential campaign for Newsweek magazine. Before Newsweek, Wolffe was a senior journalist at the Financial Times, serving as its deputy bureau chief and US diplomatic correspondent.

Panelists

Yascha Mounk is one of the world’s leading experts on democracy and the rise of populism. His latest book is The Great Experiment: Why Diverse Democracies Fall Apart and How They Can Endure, on how democracies can succeed. His last book, The People vs Democracy: Why Our Freedom is In Danger and How to Save It, was translated into ten languages and recognized as a “Best Book of 2018” by the Financial Times and other publications. He is an Associate Professor of the Practice of International Affairs at Johns Hopkins University, a Contributing Editor at The Atlantic, a Senior Fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations, the founder of Persuasion, and the host of The Good Fight podcast.

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Cancel Culture and Free Speech

May 25, 2022 — 5:00 PM EST

Presented with The Common Good

Polls show many Americans are confused as to what they can and cannot say. Is this damaging free speech and open debate? Should “cancel culture” be cancelled? MSNBC analyst, Tim Miller, is joined by Suzanne Nossel, CEO of PEN America, Daniel Kovalik, author of Cancel This Book: The Progressive Case Against Cancel Culture, and David Lat, former federal prosecutor and publisher of Original Jurisdiction, to discuss “cancel culture” and the potential destructive loop of condemnation and clarification that has overtaken political discourse.

Moderator: Tim Miller

Tim Miller is an MSNBC analyst, writer-at-large at The Bulwark, and the host of Not My Party on Snapchat. He recently wrote an article on this topic, titled Let’s Talk about Cancelling. Tim was communications director for Jeb Bush’s 2016 presidential campaign and spokesman for the Republican National Committee during Mitt Romney’s 2012 campaign. He has since left the GOP and become one of the leaders of the Never Trump movement. He has written on politics and culture for Rolling Stone, The Ringer, Playboy, and The Daily Beast.

Panelists

Suzanne Nossel is a leading voice on free expression issues in the U.S. and globally, currently serving as the CEO of PEN America, one of the most important organizations in the world that works to defend and celebrate free expression. Previously, she served as the COO of Human Rights Watch and as Executive Director of Amnesty International USA. Nossel also served as Deputy Assistant Secretary of State for International Organizations for President Obama. During the Clinton Administration, Nossel was Deputy to the U.S. Ambassador for UN Management and Reform at the United Nations. She is the author of Dare to Speak: Defending Free Speech for All. 

Daniel Kovalik is a human rights and labor rights lawyer whose most recent book, Cancel This Book The Progressive Case Against Cancel Culture discusses the cancel culture phenomenon that is sweeping the country. He served as in-house counsel for the United Steelworkers, AFL-CIO (USW) until 2019, where he worked on Alien Tort Claims Act cases against The Coca-Cola Company, Drummond and Occidental Petroleum – cases arising out of egregious human rights abuses in Colombia. Mr. Kovalik received the David W. Mills Mentoring Fellowship from Stanford University School of Law and the Project Censored Award. He is the author of several books and has written extensively on the issue of international human rights and U.S. foreign policy.

David Lat is a lawyer and former federal prosecutor who now publishes Original Jurisdiction, about law and legal affairs. Lat recently stepped into the cancel culture controversy with an article about a protest at Yale Law School. Lat founded Above the Law, one of the nation’s most widely read legal news websites, and Underneath Their Robes, a popular blog about federal judges.. He contributes often to newspapers and magazines, including The New York Times, Washington Post, and Wall Street Journal. Before entering the media world, David worked as a federal prosecutor; a litigation associate at Wachtell, Lipton; and law clerk to Judge Diarmuid F. O’Scannlain of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit.

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Hate and Extremism

May 4, 2022 — 5:00 PM EST

Presented with The Common Good

Anti-semitism, racism, and extremist groups that incite insidious forms of intolerance can destroy a society, taking root as quiet prejudices and mutating over time into horrific acts of violence and brutality. Amplified dangerously on social media as bigotry, misogyny, and conspiracy theories, how can we strike back against hate? Moderator S.E. Cupp, political commentator, CNN, is joined in this discussion by Andy Campbell, investigative reporter, HuffPost; and Christian Picciolini, anti-racism advocate and former extremis. The panel looks at overt expressions of hatred and extremism which have surged across the U.S. and the possible ways to combat it.

Moderator: S.E. Cupp

S.E. Cupp is a CNN political commentator, often for special political coverage. Among her credits, Cupp hosted CNN’s SE Cupp Unfiltered, covering intersection of politics and media; led a panel-driven show on HLN that debated contemporary issues impacting the country; was the host of S.E. Cupp’s Outside With Insiders, a digital series on CNN.com; co-hosted “Crossfire” on CNN, the relaunched political debate program with panelists Newt Gingrich, Stephanie Cutter and Van Jones; and co-hosted MSNBC’s roundtable show, The Cycle. Cupp is also a nationally syndicated political columnist, culture critic, author and consultant. Cupp penned Losing Our Religion: The Liberal Media’s Attack on Christianity and co-authored Why You’re Wrong About the Right with Brett Joshpe.

Panelists

Andy Campbell is an investigative reporter and editor covering extremism, misinformation, and their intersection with national politics. He currently works on the breaking news desk at HuffPost. His work is regularly cited in scientific studies and scholarly papers, and featured on network cable news and radio.  He is the author of the upcoming book, We Are Proud Boys: How a Right-Wing Street Gang Ushered in a New Era of American Extremism.

Christian Picciolini is an anti-racism advocate and a former extremist who has spoken widely on how to prevent and counter extremism. After leaving the hate movement to make amends and rebuild his life, he became an award-winning television producer, public speaker, and author. His books include, White American Youth and Breaking Hate: Confronting the New Culture of Extremism. He is the host of the ‘F*** YOUR RACIST HISTORY’ podcast.

National Security, Personal Liberty, and 9/11

September 23, 2021 — 12:00 PM EST

Presented with the Brennan Center for Justice

On September 25, 1789, twelve Amendments to the U.S. Constitution were enacted at Federal Hall by the first U.S. Congress. Sent to the states for approval, ten would be ratified and later become known as the Bill of Rights, the most comprehensive guarantee of individual rights the world had known to-date. Twenty years after 9/11, we take a look at the balance between national security and personal liberty, what’s lost, what’s won, and what threatens America today. Moderator John Avlon, senior political analyst, CNN, is joined in this discussion by Spencer Ackerman, contributing editor, Daily Beast and publisher, Forever Wars newsletter; Jane Harman, president emerita, Wilson Center and former U.S. Representative; Faiza Patel, co-director, Brennan Center, Liberty & National Security Program and; Elizabeth Shackelford, senior fellow, Chicago Council on Global Affairs and author, The Dissent Channel: American Diplomacy in a Dishonest Age. The panel looks at how the nation comes to terms with new domestic political realities and a changed geo-political landscape, as well as how it can deal with the most pressing threats at home and abroad, without eroding freedoms.

Moderator: John Avlon

John Avlon is a senior political analyst at CNN, providing commentary on New Day and across the CNN schedule. His weekly Reality Check segment digs into political headlines, often reflecting on the historical context. A journalist with a deep interest in history, Mr. Avlon is the author of Washington’s Farewell: The Founding Father’s Warning to Future Generations, and the recent book Lincoln’s Farewell. Mr. Avlon has also written several books on political commentary and journalism including Independent Nation, Wingnuts, and Deadline Artists.

Panelists

Spencer Ackerman is a Contributing Editor, Daily Beast and the publisher of Forever Wars newsletter on Substack. He is the author of Reign of Terror: How the 9/11 Era Destabilized America and Produced Trump. He is the former U.S. national security editor for the Guardian, and was part of the Pulitzer Prize-winning team reporting on Edward Snowden’s surveillance revelations.

Jane Harman is a distinguished fellow and president emerita, Wilson Center. She was a nine-term member of Congress from the state of California, serving decades on the major security committees in the House of Representatives. Her career has included service as President Carter’s Secretary of the Cabinet and hundreds of diplomatic missions to foreign countries.

Faiza Patel is the codirector of the Brennan Center’s Liberty & National Security Program. She has testified before Congress opposing the dragnet surveillance of Muslims and developed legislation creating an independent inspector general for the NYPD. She is a frequent commentator on national security and counterterrorism issues for the New York Times, Washington Post, Economist, Guardian, MSNBC, Al Jazeera, among other outlets.

Elizabeth Shackelford is a senior fellow, Chicago Council on Global Affairs and author, The Dissent Channel: American Diplomacy in a Dishonest Age. Shackelford was a career diplomat with the US Department of State until December 2017. As a Foreign Service Officer, she has served in Somalia, Kenya, South Sudan, Poland, and Washington, D.C.

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The People’s Constitution

200 Years, 27 Amendments, and the Promise of a More Perfect Union

September 21, 2021 — 5:30 PM EST

Presented with the Brennan Center for Justice

When people think of the architects of the Constitution, more often than not, they think immediately of 55 men in Philadelphia in 1787. However, much of this pillar of American democracy was actually written later, in a series of 27 amendments enacted over the course of two centuries, including the first 10 amendments, the Bill of Rights, which were drafted and enacted at Federal Hall. Moderator Ari Berman, senior reporter, Mother Jones and author of Give Us the Ballot: The Modern Struggle for Voting Rights in America is joined for this discussion by Wilfred Codrington, and John Kowal, co-authors of The People’s Constitution: 200 Years, 27 Amendments, and the Promise of a More Perfect Union. As reestablishing protections of equal voting rights is debated today in the U.S. Congress, this timely panel examines the historical and ongoing efforts of the American people, over two centuries, to make the Constitution, an imperfect pillar of democracy, more democratic.

Moderator: Ari Berman

Ari Berman is a senior reporter at Mother Jones, covering voting rights. He’s the author of Give Us the Ballot: The Modern Struggle for Voting Rights in America. A former senior contributing writer for The Nation magazine he has written extensively about American politics, civil rights, and the intersection of money and politics.

Panelists

Wilfred Codrington is an assistant professor of law at Brooklyn Law School and a Brennan Center fellow. His work focuses on constitutional law, election law, and public policy. Professor Codrington is currently working on the book The People’s Constitution: 200 Years, 27 Amendments and the Promise of a More Perfect Union forthcoming in 2021. His writings have also appeared in outlets such as American Prospect, Columbia Law Review Forum, Slate, The Hill, and U.S. News & World Report.

John F. Kowal is the Brennan Center’s vice president for programs, responsible for guiding the organization’s Democracy, Justice, and Liberty & National Security Programs. Kowal’s expertise include constitutional reform and judicial independence. He authored the 2016 report Judicial Selection in the 21st Century and an essay entitled The Improbable Victory of Marriage Equality, published in the Brennan Center volume, Legal Change: Lessons from America’s Social Movements.

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Is a Politics-Free SCOTUS Possible?

May 18, 2021 — 5:30 PM EST

Presented with the Brennan Center for Justice

The Supreme Court’s role is to interpret the Constitution fairly and dispense justice equally, judging cases above the churn of politics. But politics has never been far from the Court. Now, as in other historical moments, the non-partisan character of SCOTUS is being challenged. Also gaining momentum is a broader push to ensure fair representation for the nation’s vastly larger and more diverse electorate across all the branches of government. Are there dangers in changing the traditions that have long governed the highest court or has the time for reform arrived? Established by Article III of the Constitution with broad strokes, there is no Constitutional language on the size of the Court or how its members are selected. George Washington appointed only six, and the number of Justices on the Supreme Court has changed six times before settling at the present total of nine in 1869 at a time when white male life expectancy was in the early forties. Our panel will delve into the history of SCOTUS and explore questions like these. Are nine justices serving for life – or until they chose to retire – the best construct for the Supreme Court now that the federal judiciary is so much larger and legal cases are emerging from a complex, multicultural society the framers could never imagined? Why is reform being called for now and what are the merits of the various proposals currently being put forth? Is retaining the fixed structure of the Court essential to sustaining its legitimacy as impartial?

Moderator: Emily Bazelon

Emily Bazelon is a renowned journalist specializing in legal issues. A staff writer at the New York Times Magazine, she is also co-host of Slate Political Gabfest. At Yale Law School, Ms. Bazelon is the Truman Capote Fellow for Creative Writing and Law. Her latest best-seller is CHARGED: The New Movement to Transform American Prosecution and End Mass Incarceration. A graduate of Yale Law School, Ms. Bazelon was a law clerk on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 1st Circuit.

Panelists

Alicia Bannon is the managing director of the Brennan Center’s Democracy Program where she leads the Center’s Fair Courts Project. She directs research, advocacy, and litigation to promote a fair judicial system. A graduate of Yale Law School, Ms. Bannon clerked for Hon. Sonia Sotomayor in the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 2nd Circuit and Hon. Kimba M. Wood in the U. S. District Court for the Southern District of New York.

Aaron Tang is a professor of law at the University of California, Davis, focusing on constitutional law, education law, and federal courts. His article Rethinking Political Power in Judicial Review won the American Association of Law Schools 2018 Scholarly Paper Competition. Professor Tang graduated from Stanford Law School and clerked for the U. S. Court of Appeals for the 4th Circuit and for Associate Justice Sonia Sotomayor at the U. S. Supreme Court.

Franita Tolson is vice dean for academic and faculty affairs and professor of law at the University of Southern California Gould School of Law. She provided legal commentary for CNN during the 2020 election and recently published In Congress We Trust?: Enforcing Voting Rights from the Founding to the Jim Crow Era. A graduate of the University of Chicago Law School, Professor Tolson clerked for the U.S. Court of Appeals 7th Circuit and the Honorable Ruben Castillo of the Northern District of Illinois.

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Are We All Represented (Equally) in the House?

April 13, 2021 — 5:30 PM EST

Presented with the Cornell Institute of Politics & Global Affairs

The Constitution established the House of Representatives to reflect the political will of each state’s populace, but how has that actually worked? From the country’s very first Congressional election, political opponents have tried to control the shape of districts for their own advantage. And who votes within each district has had decisive impact on who is elected. The House of Representatives first convened at Federal Hall on March 4, 1789. Through the centuries, legislation has attempted to clarify and mandate equity in representation, responding to such monumental changes as the 14th Amendment as well as major national population shifts. Now the decennial redistricting process is getting underway, and state legislatures considering a slew of voting regulations in response to the record voter turnout of the 2020 elections. This program will take a big picture look at the House of Representatives, addressing the fundamental question: is it representing Americans as the framers and the Constitution intended? They will discuss what factors are involved in representation in the House – with a focus on the actions and solutions being proposed now across the political spectrum. Federal Hall’s Sam Roberts will introduce the topic with an historical perspective.

Moderator: Margaret Hoover

Margaret Hoover is the host of PBS’ “Firing Line with Margaret Hoover,” a refreshing revival of the iconic television series hosted by William F. Buckley Jr. for 33 years. She is also a CNN political commentator, and her writing has appeared in The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal, The New York Daily News, The Daily Beast, CNN.com, and FoxNews.com. She wrote the bestselling book American Individualism: How a New Generation of Conservatives Can Save the Republican Party.

Panelists

David Daley is the author of the 2016 national best-seller Ratf**ked: Why Your Vote Doesn’t Count and Unrigged: How Americans Are Battling Back to Save Democracy, published in 2020. One of the nation’s leading experts on partisan gerrymandering, he is a senior fellow at FairVote, a nonpartisan champion of election reforms. Mr. Daley’s journalism has appeared in the New Yorker, The Atlantic, The Washington Post, and many other leading publications.

David Frum is a senior editor at The Atlantic and author of ten books. He volunteered for the Reagan campaign in 1980 and has attended every Republican convention since 1988. In 2018, Mr. Frum published Trumpocracy: The Corruption of the American Republic, followed by Trumpocalypse: Restoring American Democracy in 2020. Prior books include The Right Man: The Surprise Presidency of George W. Bush and Why Romney Lost (And What The GOP Can Do About It).

Jason Torchinsky is a senior adviser and general counsel to the National Republican Redistricting Trust. He is a partner at Holtzman Vogel Josefiak Torchinsky PLLC, specializing in campaign finance, election law, lobbying disclosure and issue advocacy groups. Mr. Torchinsky has served as lead counsel in a number of litigation matters dealing with First Amendment freedoms and election law and redistricting issues.

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Senate Power vs. The Majority

March 16, 2021 — 5:30 PM EST

Presented with the Brennan Center for Justice

With increasing frequency over the past two decades, the political preferences of a majority of Americans have been subverted in the legislative process by the will of a shrinking minority. This inequity is particularly stark in the institution of the U.S. Senate, which first convened under the new Constitution at Federal Hall on March 4, 1789. To balance power in the central government, the “Grand Compromise” at the Constitutional Convention, had agreed that both the most populous and least populous states would each have two Senators. One of the contemporary impacts is that the Senate is increasingly stymied in passing major legislation even when supported by a majority of Americans. This program will explore the framer’s intent for the Senate, the historical and political circumstances that have contributed to this imbalance, the effects of this distortion of representation on the health of our democracy as well as areas for potential reform, from expanded statehood to an overhaul of institutional rules. Federal Hall’s Sam Roberts will introduce the topic with an historical perspective.

Moderator: John Avlon

John Avlon is a senior political analyst at CNN, providing commentary on New Day and across the CNN schedule. His weekly Reality Check segment digs into political headlines, often reflecting on the historical context. A journalist with a deep interest in history, Mr. Avlon is the author of Washington’s Farewell: The Founding Father’s Warning to Future Generations, and the recent book Lincoln’s Farewell. Mr. Avlon has also written several books on political commentary and journalism including Independent Nation, Wingnuts, and Deadline Artists.

Panelists

Victoria Bassetti is a fellow at the Brennan Center for Justice and the author of Electoral Dysfunction: A Survival Manual for American Voters. Ms. Bassetti worked on Capitol Hill for almost a decade as a chief counsel to Sen. Dick Durbin and legislative director for Sen. John Edwards. She was chief counsel and staff director of a subcommittee of the Senate Judiciary Committee and served on the team that drafted the 9/11 Victims Compensation Fund, the Patriot Act, the Economic Espionage Act, and the Homeland Security Act.

Norman Ornstein is an emeritus scholar at the American Enterprise Institute for Public Policy Research, a contributing writer at The Atlantic, and a contributing editor and columnist for National Journal. He is author of many books including, (along with Thomas E. Mann) It’s Even Worse Than It Looks: How the American Constitutional System Collided With the New Politics of Extremism. A member of the Advisory Board of the Future of American Democracy Foundation, he also serves on the board of the election reform group Why Tuesday?

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Presidential Power & Presidential Transition

January 12, 2021 — 5:30 PM EST

A special 75-minute program presented with the Brennan Center for Justice

In accordance with Article Two of the U.S. Constitution, George Washington was unanimously elected by 69 presidential electors who cast their votes on February 4, 1789. When Washington was inaugurated as First President at Federal Hall, the world was watching the birth of this new government, the first of its kind. The world will be watching again on January 20, 2021 after a period of historic electoral turbulence. While the Constitution asserts general principals, much is left to interpretation and practice in the powers of the presidency, the process of providing for voters to elect a new president, and the transition between administrations. The framers left the states’ responsibility for elections imprecise with scant direction about how they must exercise their mandate to organize elections. Multiple amendments over the centuries have protected certain populations from disenfranchisement, but these voting rights are framed in the negative, in that people cannot be barred from voting on the basis of race, gender, or age of at least 18. Should federal legislation require more uniformity in voting procedures? Should the Constitution affirm a right to vote with ready access to the ballot? Is it sufficient to mandate the date for a transfer of power, but not a process? As one administration gives way to another, is the system of checks and balances working as the framer’s envisioned or should more constraints be considered? Answers to urgent questions like these will shape American governance for decades to come. Federal Hall’s Sam Roberts will open the event with a historical video presentation and Brennan Center president Michael Waldman joins the panel discussion.

Moderator: John Avlon

John Avlon is a senior political analyst at CNN, providing commentary on New Day and across the CNN schedule. His weekly Reality Check segment digs into political headlines, often reflecting on the historical context. A journalist with a deep interest in history, Mr. Avlon is the author of Washington’s Farewell: The Founding Father’s Warning to Future Generations, and the recent book Lincoln’s Farewell. Mr. Avlon has also written several books on political commentary and journalism including Independent Nation, Wingnuts, and Deadline Artists.

Panelists

David Frum is a senior editor at The Atlantic and author of ten books. He volunteered for the Reagan campaign in 1980 and has attended every Republican convention since 1988. In 2018, Mr. Frum published Trumpocracy: The Corruption of the American Republic, followed by Trumpocalypse: Restoring American Democracy in 2020. Prior books include The Right Man: The Surprise Presidency of George W. Bush and Why Romney Lost (And What The GOP Can Do About It).

Franita Tolson is vice dean for academic and faculty affairs and professor of law at the University of Southern California Gould School of Law where her scholarship and teaching focus on the areas of election law and constitutional law. In 2019 she testified before the House Judiciary Committee about the reauthorization of the Voting Rights Act and authored a legal analysis for an amendment to the U.S. Constitution, introduced by Sen. Elizabeth Warren and Sen. Richard Durbin, to explicitly protect the right to vote. Her upcoming book is In Congress We Trust?: Enforcing Voting Rights from the Founding to the Jim Crow Era.

Michael Waldman is president of the Brennan Center for Justice at NYU School of Law, a nonpartisan law and policy institute that focuses on improving systems of democracy and justice. It is a leading national voice on voting rights, money in politics, criminal justice reform, and constitutional law. Mr. Waldman, a constitutional lawyer, is the author of acclaimed books on voting and the Second Amendment. A former speechwriter and policy coordinator for President Clinton, he drafted four State of the Union addresses.

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Democracy & The Electoral College

October 27, 2020 — 5:30 PM EST

Presented With The Brennan Center For Justice

This program unpacks the Electoral College, its roots in the Constitution and its impact on the realities of our democracy that purports to suggest that every vote counts. The procedure to elect a president and vice president was established by the Constitution in Article II, which lays out the role of an Electoral College, which supersedes the popular vote. The nation’s first four elections were held under those rules. The elections of 1796 and 1800 were so politically fraught that Congress enacted the Twelfth Constitutional Amendment in time for the election of 1804. Twice in this short century, the winner of the popular vote has not become president due to the role of the Electoral College. Is the Electoral College an essential bedrock of our republic, apportioning power more equitably by state? Or does it undermine the principle of one person, one vote? Proposals to abolish the Electoral College have gotten considerable attention in recent years. This could be accomplished legislatively through a Constitutional amendment, as happened before. An alternative method has also been proposed — the National Popular Vote Interstate Compact, which could render the Electoral College system obsolete. In discussing the past and the present of the Electoral College, our panelists will explore whose voices it elevates and whose it diminishes, and then consider how likely it is that future presidential elections may be decided by the popular vote alone in our politically-polarized nation. This program on the Electoral College is presented in partnership with NYU’s Brennan Center for Justice. Federal Hall’s Sam Roberts and Brennan Center president Michael Waldman will introduce the program.

Moderator: John Avlon

John Avlon is a senior political analyst at CNN, providing commentary on New Day and across the CNN schedule. His weekly Reality Check segment digs into political headlines, often reflecting on the historical context. A journalist with a deep interest in history, Mr. Avlon is the author of Washington’s Farewell: The Founding Father’s Warning to Future Generations, and the recent book Lincoln’s Farewell. Mr. Avlon has also written several books on political commentary and journalism including Independent Nation, Wingnuts, and Deadline Artists.

Panelists

Wilfred Codrington is an assistant professor of law at Brooklyn Law School and a Brennan Center fellow. His work focuses on constitutional law, election law, and public policy. Professor Codrington is currently working on the book The People’s Constitution: 200 Years, 27 Amendments and the Promise of a More Perfect Union forthcoming in 2021. His writings have also appeared in outlets such as American Prospect, Columbia Law Review Forum, Slate, The Hill, and U.S. News & World Report.

Jesse Wegman is a member of The New York Times editorial board, where he has written about the Supreme Court and legal affairs since 2013. His book Let the People Pick the President: The Case for Abolishing the Electoral College was published this spring. Mr. Wegman previously worked as a reporter, editor, and producer at outlets including National Public Radio and The New York Observer. He graduated from NYU School of Law and received a Soros Justice Fellowship to write a book about jailhouse lawyers.

Amel Ahmed is an associate professor of political science at the University of Massachusetts Amherst. Her work in comparative political studies looks across democracies at the politics of institutional choices that shape how democracies function. Her 2013 book Democracy and the Politics of Electoral System Choice: Engineering Electoral Dominance won the Best Book Award from the European Politics and Society Section of the American Political Science Association.

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Race, Reconstruction and Voting Rights

October 13, 2020 — 5:30 PM EST

The Constitution explicitly excluded African Americans and Indigenous People from Constitutional protection, and the Bill of Rights—drafted by the First Congress as the first ten Amendments to Constitution and enacted in September of 1789—did nothing to correct that. Extending Constitutional protections and rights to Black people fell to later Amendments, what are often called “the Reconstruction Amendments.” But the reality is that African Americans have been impeded in the free exercise of their right to vote—by state laws, federal court decisions, and the resistance of their fellow citizens. This, despite passage of the Voting Rights Act in 1965, fully a century after the Civil War ended, and subsequent legislation protecting Black Americans and other disenfranchised populations that passed only with significant political resistance. In 2013, in Shelby County v Holder, the Supreme Court struck down key requirements of this legislation, reasoning that it was no longer responsive to current conditions. The panel will discuss this long history of efforts to suppress Black voting, its impact on other minority voting, and challenges to voting rights that are a consequence of the Covid-19 pandemic.

Moderator: Jami Floyd

Well-known as the local host of “All Things Considered” and Legal Editor in the WNYC Newsroom, Jami Floyd is now leading WNYC’s new Race & Justice Unit that covers news through the prism of race, class, and social justice. With a degree from Berkeley Law School, Ms. Floyd taught law at Stanford Law School before embarking on a journalism career that spans two decades and has included stints at ABC News, CBS News, and Court TV. She has appeared as a legal and political analyst on many news outlets including CNN, Fox News, NBC, and PBS.

Panelists

Ekow N. Yankah is a Professor of Law and Yeshiva University, Benjamin Cardozo School of Law. In addition to questions of criminal theory and punishment, his interests include voting rights and election law, and he served as the co-chair of the New York Democratic Lawyers Council, believed to be the largest voting rights group in the country. He stepped down from NYDLC in 2020 after being appointed to New York’s Public Finance Board. He has also served on the Board of the American Constitution Society’s NY Chapter.

Richard Hasen is a Professor of Law and Political Science at the University of California, Irvine. A nationally recognized expert in election law and campaign finance regulation, he was named one of the 100 most influential lawyers in America by the National Law Journal in 2013. His newest book, Election Meltdown: Dirty Tricks, Distrust, and the Threat to American Democracy was published earlier this year. Professor Hasen’s previous books include Voting Wars, Plutocrats United, and The Justice of Contradictions.

Rina Shah is Managing Director of Red Fort Strategies, a government relations and public affairs strategic consulting firm that specializes in activating the Asian-American community. Her expertise is in building political and issue advocacy campaigns and guiding domestic and international corporations which seek to navigate the legislative and executive branches of U.S. government. Ms. Shah served as a senior aide to two Republican Members of the U.S. House of Representatives.

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The Supreme Court and Balancing Power

October 6, 2020 — 5:30 PM EST

The first Congress passed the Judiciary Act of 1789 at Federal Hall, and George Washington appointed all the federal judges, including the Supreme Court. But the role of the Court was originally quite limited. That all changed following the case of Marbury vs Madison in 1803, which established that the Supreme Court has the power to interpret the Constitution and override both Congressional legislation and executive orders. For almost 200 years, that decision has made the issue of who sits on the Court extremely consequential. Now, with a Supreme Court nominee named only weeks away from the presidential election, our panelists will look at the battle over the nomination of a new Supreme Court judge through the lens of history and consider cases on the Court’s current docket that a new ideological composition of the Court could affect.

Moderator: Jami Floyd

Well-known as the local host of “All Things Considered” and Legal Editor in the WNYC Newsroom, Jami Floyd is now leading WNYC’s new Race & Justice Unit that covers news through the prism of race, class, and social justice. With a degree from Berkeley Law School, Ms. Floyd taught law at Stanford Law School before embarking on a journalism career that spans two decades and has included stints at ABC News, CBS News, and Court TV. She has appeared as a legal and political analyst on many news outlets including CNN, Fox News, NBC, and PBS.

Panelists

Trevor Morrison is dean of NYU School of Law and co-director of the Reiss Center on Law and Security at NYU Law. He is known for his expertise in constitutional law as practiced in the executive branch and his research on the separation of powers, federalism and the federal courts. In 2009 he served as associate counsel to President Barack Obama. He was previously a law clerk to Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg of the US Supreme Court, and he has also worked in the US Justice Department’s Office.

Ilya Shapiro is the director of the Robert A. Levy Center for Constitutional Studies at the Cato Institute. He is publisher of the Cato Supreme Court Review and has edited 11 volumes. His latest book is Supreme Disorder: Judicial Nominations and the Politics of America’s Highest Court. Mr. Shapiro has filed more than 300 amicus curiae “friend of the court” briefs in the Supreme Court. Before entering private practice, he clerked for Judge E. Grady Jolly of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 5th Circuit.

Janai S. Nelson is associate director-counsel of the NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund and works with the president and director-counsel to determine and execute LDF’s strategic vision and oversee the operation of its programs. She is a member of LDF’s litigation and policy teams and was a lead counsel in a federal challenge to Texas’s voter ID law. Formerly a law professor, she has testified before Congress on voter suppression, algorithmic bias, and in support of the Voting Rights Advancement Act.

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Towards a More Authentic History

September 30, 2020 — 5:30 PM EST

Federal Hall’s annual benefit was a special 90-minute edition of Debate Defends Democracy featuring a solo performance by Wynton Marsalis and two fascinating conversations with artists and curators about how to expand the narrative of American history to be more authentic.

Federal Hall is a place of contradictions. In the very place where the First Congress approved — in September, 1789 — the amendments that became known as the Bill of Rights, the rights that document denied have festered and deepened wounds of inequality and injustice that continue to roil the nation. Our founding history is complicated by our “original sins” — the narrow framework of the Declaration affirming the equality of “all men,” the Constitutional protection of slavery, and the displacement of indigenous peoples from their lands. In this special edition of DEBATE DEFENDS DEMOCRACY, we wrestle with how Federal Hall should honor the past while telling a more authentic history. How do we celebrate the stunning achievement of the founders while committing to the unfinished work of achieving a more perfect union?

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A Performance

Wynton Marsalis in a solo performance from Federal Hall inspires a spirit of reconciliation, healing, and optimism at this challenging moment in our nation’s history. An internationally acclaimed musician, composer and bandleader, and educator, Mr. Marsalis is a leading advocate of American culture. His core beliefs and foundation for living are based on the principals of jazz. He promotes individual creativity (improvisation), collective cooperation (swing), gratitude and good manners (sophistication), and faces adversity with persistent optimism (the blues). He has declared that jazz is a metaphor for democracy.

A Conversation

Lonnie G. Bunch III, the Secretary of the Smithsonian Institution interviewed by Sam Roberts, NY Times reporter and pro bono historian for Federal Hall’s Conservancy. Throughout his esteemed career as a curator and educator, Lonnie Bunch has focused on shaping a more inclusive history. Now leading the Smithsonian, Secretary Bunch is guiding an expanding narrative of the nation’s story, ensuring that those who have been left out are made visible and heard in the collections, exhibitions, and programs at the nation’s museums. This fascinating conversation will explore the challenges that face historical sites like Federal Hall.

A Discussion

Jami Floyd, WNYC’s Legal Editor who leads the station’s new Race & Justice Unit, moderates a discussion among three award-winning curators and artists with strong ties to New York who work in public spaces to elevate the visibility, historical reality, and contributions of groups people who were explicitly excluded by the founders from Constitutional protection: all women, African Americans, and indigenous people. The panelists will discuss the role of art as a means of storytelling, correcting historical omissions, inspiring civic engagement and building communities.

Panelists

Joe Baker is an artist and curator whose people are the Lenape. Executive director of the Mashantucket Pequot Museum and Research Center in Connecticut, Mr. Baker is also co-founder and director of Lenape Center in New York City. In addition to his own work as an artist, Mr. Baker advocates for land acknowledgement, concrete partnerships and specific initiatives to elevate understanding of New York as the Lenape homeland as we revisit the concept of “founders” in a land already occupied by northeastern tribes.

Meredith Bergman works within, develops and subverts the tradition of narrative, representational sculpture to promote social justice and historical redress. Her Women’s Rights Pioneers Monument was unveiled in Central Park in August. Other commissions include the FDR Hope Memorial for Roosevelt Island in a setting designed for use by people of all abilities, the Boston Women’s Memorial, in which three historical women have come down off their pedestals, and a heroic-scale portrait for the Brooklyn Historical Society of Sally Maria Diggs, an enslaved child.

Hank Willis Thomas is a conceptual artist working primarily with themes related to perspective, identity, commodity, media, and popular culture. His collaborative projects include Question Bridge: Black Males, In Search Of The Truth (The Truth Booth), and Writing on the Wall. Co-founder of the artist-run initiative for art and civic engagement For Freedoms, Mr. Thomas has created public art like the monumental Unity installed in downtown Brooklyn last year and imagined what monuments of the future should look like as tools that shape the values and identity of a society.

Defending the First Amendment

June 30, 2020 — 5 PM EST

Crafted by the First Congress at Federal Hall, the First Amendment of the Bill of Rights ensured a range of freedoms that some founders felt were inadequately protected by the language of the Constitution. While the other rights were framed as absolute, the right of the people to assemble was specifically modified by the word “peaceably.” The freedom of assembly has perhaps never been the subject of so urgent a debate as during a pandemic in a time of mass protests. Our discussion will tackle such questions as whether local state or federal authorities should drive the decision making, what exceptions should be made for religious liberty – a provision also mandated in the First Amendment, the use of police and the national guard in the context of the right of assembly, and finally the sometimes difficult balance between individual freedom and the common good during a public health crisis.

Moderator: John Avlon

John Avlon is a senior political analyst at CNN, providing commentary on New Day and across the CNN schedule. His weekly Reality Check segment digs into political headlines, often reflecting on the historical context. A journalist with a deep interest in history, Mr. Avlon is the author of Washington’s Farewell: The Founding Father’s Warning to Future Generations, and the recent book Lincoln’s Farewell. Mr. Avlon has also written several books on political commentary and journalism including Independent Nation, Wingnuts, and Deadline Artists.

Panelists

David D. Cole is the national legal director of the American Civil Liberties Union where he leads its Supreme Court practice and oversees the work of the organization’s nearly 300 lawyers. Mr. Cole has litigated many constitutional cases in the Supreme Court over more than 30 years from the start of his career as a staff attorney at the Center for Constitutional Rights. He has taught at several universities including NYU Law School and has authored eight books including, most recently, Engines of Liberty: The Power of Citizen Activists to Make Constitutional Law.

Ross Douthat is an American conservative political analyst, blogger, and best-selling author. He writes a regular column for the New York Times, where he became the youngest regular op-ed writer in 2009. His most recent book is The Decadent Society: How We Became the Victims of Our Own Success. Among Mr. Douthat’s other titles are: To Change the Church: Pope Francis and the Future of Catholicism; the NY Times best-seller Bad Religion: How We Became a Nation of Heretics; and Grand New Party.

Theodore R. Johnson, III, is a senior fellow at New York University’s Brennan Center for Justice where his work explores the role that race plays in electoral politics and voting behavior, issue framing, and disparities in policy outcomes. Mr. Johnson holds a Doctorate of Law and Policy and his doctoral research focused on translating increased civic engagement into tangible policy outcomes, particularly for disenfranchised and subjugated communities. Mr. Johnson is also a retired commander in the U.S. Navy and his career included service as a White House fellow, military professor at the U.S. Naval War College, and speechwriter to the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff.

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The Hyper Partisan Presidency

June 23, 2020 — 5 PM EST

The second event in Federal Hall’s Debate Defends Democracy program explores hyper-partisanship, the presidency and the separation of powers. George Washington was very concerned about the impact of political parties on America’s young democracy and believed that disagreement between political parties weakened the government. In his famous Farewell Address, published in newspapers across the country when he declined to stand for election to a third term, Washington warns that efforts of one party to dominate the other could lead to despotism and undermine the checks and balances prescribed by the Constitution. This program will explore the trends that have led to increasing partisanship and the impact on presidential power.

Moderator: John Avlon

John Avlon is a senior political analyst at CNN, providing commentary on New Day and across the CNN schedule. His weekly Reality Check segment digs into political headlines, often reflecting on the historical context. A journalist with a deep interest in history, Mr. Avlon is the author of Washington’s Farewell: The Founding Father’s Warning to Future Generations, and the recent book Lincoln’s Farewell. Mr. Avlon has also written several books on political commentary and journalism including Independent Nation, Wingnuts, and Deadline Artists.

Panelists

Anne Applebaum is a staff writer for The Atlantic and won a Pulitzer Prize for her book Gulag: A History. Her most recent book is Twilight of Democracy: The Seductive Lure of Authoritarianism, which examines why some people have abandoned liberal democratic ideals in favor of strongman cults, nationalist movements, or one-party states. A distinguished journalist, Ms. Applebaum was a Washington Post columnist for fifteen years and a former member of its editorial board, and has also been an editor and columnist for numerous other publications including several British newspapers. From 1988-1991 she covered the collapse of communism as the Warsaw correspondent of the Economist magazine and the Independent newspaper.

Douglas Brinkley is a U.S. presidential historian and acclaimed author of dozens of books on a great range of topics in American history including seven that were New York Times bestsellers. His two-volume annotated The Nixon Tapes, published in 2016, won the Arthur S. Link – Warren F. Kuehl Prize, and he was selected by Nancy Reagan to edit Ronald Reagan’s presidential diaries (2011). He has written presidential biographies about both Theodore and Franklin Roosevelt as well as Jimmy Carter. Chair in Humanities and Professor of History at Rice University, Mr. Brinkley is a CNN Presidential Historian and contributing editor at Vanity Fair. Mr. Brinkley works in many capacities in the world of public history including for boards, museums, colleges and historical societies.

Ron Christie is an American government relations expert and Republican political strategist. He began working at the White House in 2001 as deputy assistant for domestic policy to Vice President Dick Cheney, and later joined the staff of the President, serving as a Special Assistant to George W. Bush until 2004. Previously, Mr. Christie was a senior advisor to Senator George Allen of Virginia and a senior advisor to John Kasich, the former House Budget Committee Chairman and the future Governor of Ohio. Mr. Christie is a member of the Council on Foreign Relations and the author of several books including Black in the White House. Among several university faculty appointments, Mr. Christie is a lecturer on the American Presidency at NYU DC and a member of Advisory Board of the John Brademas Center. He is currently CEO of Christie Strategies LLC, a full-service communications and issues management firm in Washington, D.C.

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Democracy in a Time of Crisis

June 16, 2020 — 5 PM EST

Democracy in a Time of Crisis explored how Constitutional questions regarding federal authority, states’ rights, and First Amendment guarantees of freedom of assembly and religion during the COVID pandemic (and prior pandemics) have stressed our democratic values. The discussion continued into the expanding crisis around racial injustice and executive power that is roiling the country as we head into an election season during a time of intense strain.

Moderator: John Avlon

John Avlon is a senior political analyst at CNN, providing commentary on New Day and across the CNN schedule. His weekly Reality Check segment digs into political headlines, often reflecting on the historical context. A journalist with a deep interest in history, Mr. Avlon is the author of Washington’s Farewell: The Founding Father’s Warning to Future Generations, and the recent book Lincoln’s Farewell. Mr. Avlon has also written several books on political commentary and journalism including Independent Nation, Wingnuts, and Deadline Artists.

Panelists

John M. Barry is an historian and New York Times best-selling author of The Great Influenza: The story of the deadliest pandemic in history, a study of the 1918 pandemic that killed 50 to 100 million people worldwide. The National Academies of Sciences named it the year’s best book on science or medicine. Since 2004 Mr. Barry has worked on pandemic preparedness with the Bush and Obama White Houses and other government entities, and was the only non-scientist on a federal Infectious Disease Board of Experts. He is also a professor at the Tulane University School of Public Health and Tropical Medicine.

Eddie S. Glaude, Jr. is chair of the Department of African American Studies at Princeton University and former president of the Amerian Academy of Religion. Professor Glaude’s most well-known books are Democracy in Black: How Race Still Enslaves the American Soul, which has been described as “one of the most imaginative, daring books of the twenty-first century,” and In a Shade of Blue: Pragmatism and the Politics of Black America. They take a wide look at black communities and reveal complexities, vulnerabilities, and opportunities for hope.

Michael Waldman is president of the Brennan Center for Justice at NYU School of Law, a nonpartisan law and policy institute that focuses on improving systems of democracy and justice. It is a leading national voice on voting rights, money in politics, criminal justice reform, and constitutional law. Mr. Waldman, a constitutional lawyer and writer who is an expert on the presidency and American democracy, has led the Center since 2005. A former speechwriter and policy coordinator for President Clinton he has drafted four State of the Union addresses. He is also an author of acclaimed books on voting and the Second Amendment.

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Any views, findings, conclusions or recommendations expressed in Debate Defends Democracy programs and or materials do not necessarily represent those of the National Endowment for the Humanities.

Special 2020/2021 program support for Federal Hall was also provided by the New York Stock Exchange-ICE Foundation, Stonbely Family Foundation and the Bogosian-Quigley Family Foundation.