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Cover of The Specter of Dictatorship by David M. Driesen
The Specter of Dictatorship
Judicial Enabling of Presidential Power
David M. Driesen

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July 2021
248 pages.
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Hardcover ISBN: 9781503611757
Paperback ISBN: 9781503628618
Ebook ISBN: 9781503628625

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Reveals how the U.S. Supreme Court's presidentialism threatens our democracy and what to do about it.

Donald Trump's presidency made many Americans wonder whether our system of checks and balances would prove robust enough to withstand an onslaught from a despotic chief executive. In The Specter of Dictatorship, David Driesen analyzes the chief executive's role in the democratic decline of Hungary, Poland, and Turkey and argues that an insufficiently constrained presidency is one of the most important systemic threats to democracy. Driesen urges the U.S. to learn from the mistakes of these failing democracies. Their experiences suggest, Driesen shows, that the Court must eschew its reliance on and expansion of the "unitary executive theory" recently endorsed by the Court and apply a less deferential approach to presidential authority, invoked to protect national security and combat emergencies, than it has in recent years. Ultimately, Driesen argues that concern about loss of democracy should play a major role in the Court's jurisprudence, because loss of democracy can prove irreversible. As autocracy spreads throughout the world, maintaining our democracy has become an urgent matter.

About the author

David M. Driesen is University Professor in the College of Law at Syracuse University. He is the author of The Economic Dynamics of Law (2012).

"David Driesen has written an eloquent and powerful account of the Framers' concern about 'tyranny' and their profound commitment to democracy. His careful historical scholarship and deft analysis of doctrine demonstrate clearly the ways that growing presidential power has imperiled this principle. An urgent and compelling read not just for today's crises, but for understanding the basic dynamics of American democracy and its antagonists."

—Aziz Z. Huq, University of Chicago Law School

"A book for our troubled times. Blending history, law, and politics, David Driesen situates the Trump presidency in the alarming global trend toward autocracy and diagnoses what currently ails democracy in America. Richly detailed, highly informative, and deeply contextual, this book is required reading to understand the forces threatening the liberal democratic values of modern constitutionalism."

—Richard Albert, The University of Texas at Austin

"Constitutional drafters often establish semi-autonomous executive institutions to serve as guardrails of democracy. Over the past several decades, conservative lawyers and judges in the U.S. have systematically targeted such bureaucratic independence as inconsistent with the constitutional theory of a 'unitary executive.' Driesen masterfully lays bare the previously underappreciated role played by unitary executive theory in ongoing processes of democratic erosion."

—Thomas M. Keck, Syracuse University