Hughes is a research specialist at the University of Virginia.
Once, not so long ago, congressional Republicans were impeachment's constitutional stalwarts.
They stood up for the House's "sole power of impeachment," a power granted in the Constitution, including the right to subpoena witnesses and evidence. Even when the president under investigation was a Republican. Even when the Republican political base threatened to turn against them.
But that was when the president was Richard Nixon, not Donald Trump.
With the Senate trial about to get started, a look back is in order.
Tracking the story of American democracy over the past decade has been a very complex undertaking, dominated by dispiriting accelerations of dysfunction but also punctuated by some developments meriting cautious optimism.
The Supreme Court opened the floodgates of money in politics, turned a blind eye to partisan gerrymandering and paved the way for dozens of measures making it harder to vote in places already marred by histories of political discrimination. Capitol Hill became more gridlocked by tribal partisan animus than ever, even when the topic was fixing the very system in which Congress is supposed to play a vibrant central role. And there's Donald Trump, who won the presidency in an election marked by unparalleled foreign interference and then took busting the norms of a democratic civil society to a whole new level.
At the same time, however, the ever more broken state of affairs in Washington was offset by successes in statehouses and city halls — and by the citizens themselves — at making democracy more equitable and productive for more people. Innovations in public financing of campaigns and election methods that reward consensus candidates were on the rise, while voting rights were returned to almost 2 million felons out of prison. Ballot initiatives and state courts moved against partisan power grabs in legislative mapmaking, allowing more people to pick their politicians, not the other way around.
Finally, the democracy reform movement itself built toward a critical mass of organizational muscle and funding strength. It even generated its own dedicated news site!
To get ready for the 2020s, when the debate over how to put the government more overtly back in the hands of the voters will be more urgent than ever, here's The Fulcrum's take on the top 10 stories about democracy's challenges from the decade now ending, in a somewhat rough chronological order.
There are now 23 states asking the Supreme Court to answer a basic question about the process of electing the president: Can they bind a member of the Electoral College to vote for the state's popular vote winner?
A group of 22 states on Wednesday asked the court to take up a case involving a so-called faithless elector in Colorado, who was dismissed and replaced in 2016 after refusing to vote for Hilary Clinton even though she won the state's popular vote. The elector challenged his dismissal in a lawsuit, which a lower court allowed to move forward.
The brief from Colorado's allies argues the court should reverse that decision, effectively giving a green light for states to enforce laws that require an elector to cast their votes for the candidate who carries their state. Thirty-two states have such laws.
Mills is associate vice president of policy at the R Street Institute, a nonpartisan and pro-free-market public policy research organization.
"Knowledge is power." The phrase is attributed to Francis Bacon, the so-called father of modern science, who believed that scientific knowledge enables the mastery of nature and the "relief of man's estate." Although Bacon himself was interested primarily in scientific and technological progress, the connection between knowledge and power is also a political problem — and one that is particularly pertinent today.
Knowledge has always been necessary for making laws and political decisions. But in modern times, scientific knowledge in particular has become indispensable for governing — and not only because modern states make decisions about overtly scientific matters like research funding, environmental protection and space exploration. Administering public policies, from health care and welfare to regulation and taxation, relies on various types of scientific knowledge. And it is, for the most part, carried out by executive agencies staffed by experts.
Over time, such agencies have acquired legislative-like powers — the authority, in effect, to make law by interpreting deliberately vague or broad statutes. One rationale for Congress' delegation of this power to the executive branch has to do with knowledge: Congress lacks the requisite expertise, whereas executive agencies do not. This is in part Congress' own fault, since it has, over time, depleted its own in-house expertise — by, for example, reducing expert staff and dismantling the Office of Technology Assessment. The imbalance of knowledge between Congress and executive agencies leads to an imbalance of power and vice versa.
This is problematic on three counts.