A Different Democracy

I am pleased to announce the publication of my newest book, coauthored with a distinguished team (Steven L. Taylor, Arend Lijphart, and Bernard Grofman):

A Different Democracy:
American Government in a 31-Country Perspective

cover A Different Democracy crop

Published by Yale University Press (2014). From the publisher’s description:

Four distinguished scholars in political science analyze American democracy from a comparative point of view, exploring how the U.S. political system differs from that of thirty other democracies and what those differences ultimately mean for democratic performance. This essential text approaches the following institutions from a political engineering point of view: constitutions, electoral systems, and political parties, as well as legislative, executive, and judicial power. The text looks at democracies from around the world over a two-decade time frame. The result is not only a fresh view of the much-discussed theme of American exceptionalism but also an innovative approach to comparative politics that treats the United States as but one case among many. An ideal textbook for both American and comparative politics courses.

The back cover:

The books actually arrived in September, but I am only now getting around to the “announcement”.

19 thoughts on “A Different Democracy

  1. By gum, that authorial ticket is the Travelling WIlburys supergroup of Comparative Institutional Pol Sci. I want an autographed copy of that baby in my Xmas/HAnukkah/ Kwanzaa/ Asimov’s Birthday stocking…

    • I say the prize of an autographed copy should go to the first person to break Shugart’s law and mention STV in this thread!

  2. What are the implications of comparative democracy? What can the U.S learn from other countries? What are the most archaic and innovative aspects of American Democracy?

    • The US supreme court. No other democracy has a supreme court that combines life terms, the absence of an enforceable code of ethics, and a highly partisan method of appointment.

      Even among US state supreme courts only 4 have life terms and the most common method of judicial selection is the Missouri Plan. All US states have judicial conduct commissions that enforce codes of ethics and in most cases can initiate removal of a judge for cause. Among those states that require legislative confirmation of judges, many require a supermajority for confirmation.

      It is no accident that the international standing of the US supreme court has declined significantly since the US moved into its current situation of intense partisanship which has clearly spread to the court as well the congress and the presidency.

      • There’s a number of countries that have a similar judicial appointment method. How partisan the process is is down to other factors. Direct election, as practised in many states and in several countries, is probably at least as likely to be partisan. As to ethics commissions, I know little on the subject – but American judges of course can indeed be removed, through impeachment.

      • Direct election is actually not all that common. 28 states have some form of nominating commission. 23 states use some variant of the Missouri Plan. Neither removal for cause nor impeachment is specially common, but removals for cause are significantly more common than impeachments.

        In 2003 Alabama’s chief justice had a rush of blood to the head and refused to obey a federal court order to remove a Ten Commandments memorial from the supreme court house. The judicial inquiry commission found him in breach of the canons of judicial conduct and the removal was ultimately upheld by the special court charged with deciding applications from the commission. The CJ’s appeal to the state supreme court was unsuccessful.

        I am not completely sure that the Alabama legislature was particularly eager to impeach, convict, and remove him. If a federal chief justice engaged in similar conduct I am equally unsure sure the congress could or would remove them by impeachment.

        I agree with you about direct election. The judge in question managed to win re-election as chief justice in 2012.

      • Conducting a quick tally based on the American Judicature Society’s data (judicialselection.us/judicial_selection/methods/selection_of_judges.cfm?state=), I count 23 States with some kind of nominating committee, 22 with some kind of direct election, 3 along the same lines as SCOTUS, and 2 with legislative election.

      • @JDMussell

        Retention elections are part of the Missouri Plan and its variants. They are quite different from partisan, competitive elections in the manner of Texas or Alabama. I do not think it particularly useful to conflate retention elections and partisan elections in the same column.

      • Alan, I didn’t… Check the website. I counted using the section ‘Method of Selection’ for each State. Retention elections are quite clearly designated under a separate section: ‘Method of Retention’.

      • jd

        Thanks for the clarification. We are agreed then that the Missouri Plan, also know known as merit selection, is more common than either partisan or nonpartisan election, or both forms of direct election together.

        Among state supreme courts in the US only Rhode Island has life terms and their judges are subject to judicial evaluation and removal for cause as well as impeachment. Indeed the sole state where judges can be dismissed only by impeachment appears to be West Virginia.

        Among top courts outside the US i am not aware of of any that have life terms, although I’m happy to be corrected. The same is true of directly elected top courts outside the US.

        My original points then, about the archaism and exceptionality of the US supreme court stand. There a number of reform proposals floating about. Most focus on fixed terms although some, including Ricky Perry at the last presidential election, call for staggered fixed terms.

      • Alan, I am still not sure about your original point concerning ‘a highly partisan method of appointment’. If you only mean the actual method, then it is not really exceptional, with plenty of countries using a similar method. If you mean the motive behind the appointments, then I would suspect countries with fewer veto players involved in the process to have even more partisan intentions at least sometimes.

        However, I think you probably mean the partisan nature that debates and conflict over appointments have taken on, and in that I certainly cannot but agree, having heard of no debates over judicial appointment quite so vociferously partisan as America’s.

      • jd

        You may be interested in Calabresi and Lindgren 2006.

        The authors advocate a non-renewable fixed term of 18 years with Supreme Court vacancies timed to occur every 2 years. They argue that the intensity of Supreme Court confirmation fights is driven not just by the background level of partisanship, but by the likely judicial impact of life appointments and the infrequency with which they happen.

        Anecdotally, the High Court of Australia does not have fixed terms but it does have a retirement age and arguments about judicial appointments have declined dramatically since 1977 when the retirement age was introduced.

        I’d argue quite strongly for merit selection and retention elections for the Supreme Court.

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