Debate Defends Democracy

Debate Defends Democracy is a virtual discussion of Constitutional issues and the Bill of Rights presented by the Conservancy at Federal Hall. Federal Hall, on Wall Street in New York City, is the site where George Washington was inaugurated, the First Congress met, and the Bill of Rights was enacted for ratification by the states. Fundamental Constitutional issues about individual liberties and the power of government that the Founders sought to resolve in 1789-90 when New York City was the capital of the United States have renewed urgency today. Produced in partnership with the National Park Service and New York University with lead support from Carnegie Corporation of New York.

  • Is a Politics-Free SCOTUS Possible?
    May 18th, 5:30-6:45 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?

    WHAT DO YOU WANT THE PANELISTS TO DISCUSS? PLEASE SUBMIT ONE QUESTION BY MAY 13th TO debatedefendsdemocracy@federalhall.org

    Moderator: Emily Bazelon

    Emily Bazelon is a renowned journalist specializing in legal issues. She is a staff writer at the New York Times Magazine and co-host of Slate Political Gabfest, a weekly podcast. Previously, Ms. Bazelon was a writer and editor for nine years at Slate and an editor and writer at Legal Affairs magazine. Ms. Bazelon is currently the Truman Capote Fellow for Creative Writing and Law at Yale Law School. She is the author of the national best-seller Sticks and Stones: Defeating the Culture of Bullying and Rediscovering the Power of Character and Empathy. Her latest book 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. She leads the Center’s Fair Courts Project, where she directs research, advocacy, and litigation to promote a fair judicial system. Ms. Bannon has authored nationally recognized reports and articles on judicial selection, access to justice, judicial diversity, and government dysfunction, and her writing has appeared widely in the media. She was previously a law professor and a Fellow in public interest and constitutional law at Gibbons P.C. in New Jersey, where she engaged in a wide range of public interest litigation. 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 also writes about the Supreme Court for broader audiences with essays featured in numerous national publications. After graduating from Yale University with a bachelor’s degree in Political Science, he worked as a youth organizer and a middle school teacher in St. Louis, Missouri. Subsequently he 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. He was an associate for Jones Day in Washington, D.C., immediately before joining the UC Davis law faculty.
    • Franita Tolson is vice dean for academic and faculty affairs and professor of law at the University of Southern California Gould School of Law. Professor Tolson’s 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. Professor Tolson, who has provided legal commentary for CNN during the recent election, is currently working on a book, In Congress We Trust?: Enforcing Voting Rights from the Founding to the Jim Crow Era, to be published in 2021. A graduate of the University of Chicago Law School, she 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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VIDEO OF PRIOR PROGRAMS


Debate Defends Democracy launched in June, 2020 and the first series of three programs was hosted by John Avlon, CNN senior political analyst and a noted a historian of American democracy. His Reality Check segment on CNN's New Day often brings historical perspective to current events.

Prior program descriptions and video links below.

  • Are We All Represented (Equally) in the House?
    April 13th, 5:30 PM EST

    Co-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. A CNN political commentator, Ms. Hoover has served in The White House under President George W. Bush, in the Department of Homeland Security, on Capitol Hill and on two presidential campaigns. She is the President of American Unity Fund a political organization focused on achieving full freedom and equality for LGBT Americans as well as the bestselling author of American Individualism: How a New Generation of Conservatives Can Save the Republican Party in 2011. 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.

  • 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. Mr. Daley is one of the nation’s leading experts on partisan gerrymandering, and he is a senior fellow at FairVote, a nonpartisan champion of election reforms. His journalism on redistricting and gerrymandering has appeared in the New Yorker, The Atlantic, The Washington Post, The Boston Globe, New York magazine and many other leading publications. He is the former editor in chief of Salon.
    • 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. Mr. Frum served as a speechwriter and special assistant to the George W. Bush and was a senior adviser to Rudy Giuliani’s presidential campaign. In 2018, Mr. Frum published Trumpocracy: The Corruption of the American Republic, about the dangers posed by the Trump presidency to American democracy. In 2020, he published a second volume about the Trump era and its consequences, Trumpocalypse: Restoring American Democracy. Prior books include The Right Man: The Surprise Presidency of George W. Bush, which was the first insider account of the Bush presidency, 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. He has been recognized by Chambers USA as one of the top “Government Law” attorneys in the country, and he also has been honored by Politico as one of the “50 Politicos to Watch.”

    WATCH THE VIDEO

  • SENATE POWER VS. THE MAJORITY
    March 16th, 5:30 PM EST

    Presented in partnership with NYU’s
    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 forthcoming book Lincoln’s Farewell. He is among the commentators interviewed in CNN’s current 6-part series Lincoln: Divided We Stand. Previously, Mr. Avlon was the editor-in-chief and managing director of The Daily Beast, during which time the site won 17 journalism awards. 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. She is the author of Electoral Dysfunction: A Survival Manual for American Voters, the companion book to a PBS documentary by the same name. Her writings have been published in The New York Times, Washington Post, Financial Times, Politico, USA Today, Washington Monthly, and Harper’s. She 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 and oversaw matters related to the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives.
    • 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 and his commentary is often published in many magazines. 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. He is member of the Advisory Board of the Future of American Democracy Foundation, a nonpartisan organization “dedicated to research and education aimed at renewing and sustaining the historic vision of American democracy. Mr. Ornstein is also a board member of the nonpartisan election reform group Why Tuesday?. He is on the advisory council of the cross-partisan grassroots campaign Represent.Us.

    WATCH THE VIDEO

  • PRESIDENTIAL POWER &
    PRESIDENTIAL TRANSITION

    January 12th, 5:30 PM EST

    A special 75-minute program presented in partnership with NYU’s 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 an author, columnist and commentator. He is a senior political analyst and fill-in anchor at CNN, appearing on New Day every morning. Previously, he was the editor-in-chief and managing director of The Daily Beast, during which time the site won 17 journalism awards. He is the author of the books Independent Nation, Wingnuts, and Washington’s Farewell as well as co-editor of the Deadline Artists journalism anthologies. Avlon served as chief speechwriter to New York City Mayor Rudy Giuliani and won the National Society of Newspaper Columnists award for best online column in 2012.

  • 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. Mr. Frum served as a speechwriter and special assistant to the George W. Bush and was a senior adviser to Rudy Giuliani’s presidential campaign. In 2018, Mr. Frum published Trumpocracy: The Corruption of the American Republic, about the dangers posed by the Trump presidency to American democracy. In 2020, he published a second volume about the Trump era and its consequences, Trumpocalypse: Restoring American Democracy. Prior books include The Right Man: The Surprise Presidency of George W. Bush, which was the first insider account of the Bush presidency, 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. Professor Tolson’s 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 Professor Tolson recently 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. Professor Tolson, who has provided legal commentary for CNN during the recent election, is currently working on a book, In Congress We Trust?: Enforcing Voting Rights from the Founding to the Jim Crow Era, to be published in 2021.
    • 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, Mr. Waldman has drafted four State of the Union addresses. He is also an author of acclaimed books on voting and the Second Amendment.

    WATCH THE VIDEO

  • Democracy & The Electoral College
    October 27th, 5:30 PM EST

    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 an author, columnist and commentator. He is a senior political analyst and fill-in anchor at CNN, appearing on New Day every morning. Previously, he was the editor-in-chief and managing director of The Daily Beast, during which time the site won 17 journalism awards. He is the author of the books Independent Nation, Wingnuts, and Washington’s Farewell as well as co-editor of the Deadline Artists journalism anthologies. Avlon served as chief speechwriter to New York City Mayor Rudy Giuliani and won the National Society of Newspaper Columnists award for best online column in 2012.

  • 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 The Atlantic, American Prospect, Columbia Law Review Forum, Slate, The Hill, U.S. News & World Report, and Ms. magazine.
    • 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, The New York Observer, Reuters, The Daily Beast, and Newsweek. He graduated from New York University School of Law in 2005 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. She co-chaired the APSA’s 2019 annual meeting, the largest gathering of political scientists in the world.

    WATCH THE VIDEO

  • Race, Reconstruction and Voting Rights
    October 13th, 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, MSNBC, and PBS.

  • Panelists:

    • Vanita Gupta is President and CEO of The Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights, the nation’s oldest and largest civil rights coalition. Previously Gupta was Acting Assistant Attorney General and head of the U.S. Department of Justice’s Civil Rights Division where she served as the nation’s chief civil rights prosecutor. Prior to joining the Justice Department, Gupta served as Deputy Legal Director and the Director of the Center for Justice at the American Civil Liberties Union, where she launched the Smart Justice Campaign to end mass incarceration.
    • 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 at every level as well as offering strategic guidance to a wide-range of domestic and international corporations, including start-up ventures, 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 and is a frequent media commentator.

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  • The Supreme Court and Balancing Power
    October 6th, 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 effect.

    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, MSNBC, 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 particularly well-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. Dean Morrison spent 2009 in the White House, where he served as associate counsel to President Barack Obama. He was a law clerk to Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg of the US Supreme Court from 2002-03, 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 eleven volumes. His latest book, Supreme Disorder: Judicial Nominations and the Politics of America’s Highest Court, was published in September. 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 Fifth 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 also a member of LDF’s litigation and policy teams and was one of the 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.

    WATCH THE VIDEO


  • Towards a More Authentic History
    September 30th, 5:30 PM EST

    FEDERAL HALL’s annual benefit was a special 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.

  • WATCH THE VIDEO

    Program details →


  • Defending the First Amendment
    June 30th, 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.

    WATCH THE VIDEO

  • Panelists include:

    • David D. Cole, the National Legal Director of the American Civil Liberties Union who 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 Center for Constitutional Rights. His victories have included Texas v. Johnson and United States v. Eichman, which extended First Amendment protection to flag burning and Masterpiece Cakeshop v. Colorado Civil Rights Commission, in which the ACLU represented a gay couple refused service by a bakery for a wedding cake. Mr. Cole taught constitutional law and criminal justice at Georgetown University from 1990 until 2016, while continuing to litigate Constitutional cases. He has taught at several universities including NYU Law School and is the author of eight books. The most recent, published in 2016, is titled Engines of Liberty: The Power of Citizen Activists to Make Constitutional Law.
    • Ross Douthat, an American conservative political analyst, blogger, and best-selling author, who writes a regular column for the New York Times, where he became the youngest regular op-ed writer in 2009. Previously Mr. Douthat was a senior editor at The Atlantic. His most recent book, The Decadent Society: How We Became the Victims of Our Own Success, published in 2020, discusses his view of what happens when a rich and powerful society ceases advancing—how the combination of wealth and technological proficiency with economic stagnation, political stalemates, cultural exhaustion, and demographic decline creates a strange kind of “sustainable decadence.” 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, 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 following a two-decade career that took him to every corner of the world and 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. He has more than 15 years of public policy experience in federal departments and agencies, and is an expert on cybersecurity.
  • The Hyper Partisan Presidency
    June 23rd, 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.

    WATCH THE VIDEO

  • Panelists include:

    • 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.
  • Democracy in a Time of Crisis
    June 16th, 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.

    WATCH THE VIDEO

  • Panelists included:

    • 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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