Democracy Clinic Policy Reports
Students in Fordham Law’s Democracy and the Constitution Clinic develop non-partisan reforms to strengthen the nation’s democracy and its institutions. Their reports are informed by careful deliberation and research, including interviews with leading experts and policymakers.
Checking Presidential Power
Balancing Independence and Accountability: Proposals to Reform Special Counsel Investigations (2021)
Investigations of the president and other high-ranking officials must be free from political interference yet cannot devolve into “runaway” inquiries. This report recommends reforms to the rules for every stage of special counsel investigations. Among the proposals is a requirement that federal judges oversee the attorney general’s appointment and removal of special counsels. Additionally, a special counsel should be mandatory when the president is suspected of a crime and reports on investigations should go directly to Congress.
An Absolute Power, or A Power Absolutely in Need of Reform? Proposals to Reform the Presidential Pardon Power (2021)
The presidential pardon power can serve valuable purposes, but the lack of checks on the power invites abuses. This report calls for laws and executive orders to curtail misuses of the pardon power. Congress should pass laws banning the president from pardoning himself or herself and issuing pardons for conduct that has not yet occurred. Executive orders should set detailed procedures for considering pardons and require reports to Congress if the president pardons a family member or close associate.
Toward an Independent Administration of Justice: Proposals to Insulate the Department of Justice from Improper Political Interference (2020)
The rule of law is undermined when political and personal interests motivate criminal prosecutions. This report advances proposals for ensuring that the federal criminal justice system is administered uniformly based on the facts and the law. It recommends a law preventing the president from interfering in specific prosecutions, another law establishing responsibilities for prosecutors who receive improper orders, and new conflict of interest regulations for Department of Justice officials.
Protecting Against an Unable President: Reforms for Invoking the 25th Amendment and Overseeing Presidential Nuclear Launch Authority (2020)
The immense powers of the presidency and the vast array of global threats demand a physically and mentally capable president. To help ensure able presidential leadership, this report advocates reforms related to the 25th Amendment, including proposals for an “other body” to act with the vice president in certain circumstances to declare the president unable and a mechanism for officials to report concerns about the president’s capacity. The report also recommends new checks on the president’s authority to use nuclear weapons, such as procedures for notifying top national security officials when use is contemplated.
Ensuring Fair and Effective Representation
Selecting Representative and Qualified Candidates for President: Proposals to Reform Presidential Primaries (2021)
The presidential primary processes used by the two major parties misses opportunities to engage voters and incorporate their input in selecting nominees. This report advances several reforms to make the primaries more inclusive, including reordering the primary calendar to give voters in more states a meaningful voice, eliminating caucuses, and opening primaries to independent voters. Additionally, the political parties should make primary debates more informative and limit party leaders’ opportunities to have disproportionate input in selecting presidential candidates.
Presidents Must Be Elected Popularly: Examining Proposals and Identifying the Natural Endpoint of Electoral College Reform (2020)
The Electoral College effectively disenfranchises voters who live outside the few states that decide presidential elections. This report endorses a change in the way electoral voters are allocated to ensure that Americans’ votes receive the same weight. States should sign on to the National Popular Vote Interstate Compact, an agreement among states to allocate their electoral votes to the winner of the national popular vote. Ranked choice voting should also be employed to ensure that candidates receive majority support.
Why the House of Representatives Must Be Expanded and How Today’s Congress Can Make It Happen (2020)
The House of Representatives was designed to expand alongside the country’s population—yet its membership stopped growing a century ago. Larger and, in some cases, unequal sized congressional districts have left Americans with worse representation, including in the Electoral College, which allocates electors partially on the size of states’ House delegations. This report recommends tying the House’s size to the cube root of the nation’s population, which would lead to 141 more seats. It also calls for an approach to drawing districts that would eliminate gerrymandering.
Improving Ethics and Transparency
Improving Communication with Public Officials on Social Media: Proposals for Protecting Social Media Users’ First Amendment Rights (2021)
Government officials undermine a key platform for communication with the public when they block users or delete their comments on social media. Those actions also often run afoul of the First Amendment. To address a problem that exists at all levels of government, this report recommends legislation that bans public officials using social media for official purposes from blocking users or deleting their comments, except when comments are unprotected by the First Amendment.
What Should Presidential Candidates Tell Us About Themselves? Proposals for Improving Transparency in Presidential Campaigns (2020)
Elections are at the foundation of our democracy, but voters sometimes cast their ballots without critical information about presidential candidates. This report calls for requirements that candidates release more personal financial information, including five years of tax returns, and undergo criminal and intelligence background checks. The report also advocates for a system allowing candidates to submit to voluntary medical exams with some results released to the public.
Enforcing the Intent of the Constitution’s Foreign and Domestic Emoluments Clauses (2020)
The Constitution’s Foreign and Domestic Emoluments Clauses are meant to prevent corruption and conflicts of interest. The Foreign Emoluments Clause prohibits some federal officials, including the president, from receiving payments or other benefits from foreign governments, while the Domestic Emoluments Clause bans the president from receiving payments other than the office’s salary from the federal and state governments. To enforce the clauses, this report recommends requiring the president to divest from business interests and increasing powers to investigate and punish violations of the clauses.
Maintaining the Judiciary's Independence
Protecting the Supreme Court: Why Safeguarding the Judiciary’s Independence is Crucial to Maintaining its Legitimacy (2021)
The stability of the Supreme Court’s size and procedures is a critical source of legitimacy, but reforms might protect the Court’s independence from politics. Perceptions among members of the public that justices are political actors harms the rule of law. This report discusses reforms to ensure that each president receives the same number of appointments to the Supreme Court. The report also considers how to guarantee each nominee a Senate hearing and reforms to the retirement stage of justices’ tenures.