Bruce Ackerman

Bruce Ackerman is Sterling Professor of Law and Political Science at Yale. His latest book is The Decline and Fall of the American Republic.

At the Crossroads: Electoral Reform

Bruce Ackerman, 9 September 2010

Britain’s constitutional revolution is proceeding at such a pace that it is easy to lose sight of the meaning of it all. The reforms of the past generation – the delegation of quasi-sovereignty to Brussels, devolutions to assemblies in Northern Ireland and Wales and a parliament in Scotland, the passage of the Human Rights Act and the creation of the Supreme Court, the continuing...

The government’s White Paper on reform expresses uneasiness with the elitism of the present House of Lords, and proposes a democratic cure: some members of the new chamber, it suggests, should be selected at the polls. The promise of democratic legitimacy is a sham. To preserve the primacy of the Commons, the government’s proposals hobble the democratic standing of the elected members of the upper house. Once chosen by the voters, each will serve for about fifteen years, but they can’t run for a second term. This is a recipe for irresponsibility. The bar on re-election strips voters of their basic tool for democratic accountability: the politicians’ fear that their constituents will throw them out of office.

2005 was the year of the Iraq debacle, the Katrina fiasco, the DeLay scandal. The president’s challenge to Social Security was simply ignored by the Republican Congress. With the president sinking precipitously in the polls, the Supreme Court vacancies represented a challenge more than an opportunity. Could the president manage to maintain the support of 55 Republican senators when he was no longer a political asset in the upcoming elections in 2006 and beyond?

Jose Padilla is an American citizen who has never fought on a traditional battlefield. He converted to Islam when in prison and later travelled to Pakistan. On returning to O’Hare Airport in Chicago, he was seized as a terrorist . . . The stakes are enormous: if the president can throw Padilla into jail on his say-so, no citizen is safe. After spending more than two years in confinement, Padilla finally got his case to the Supreme Court. But a majority seized on a jurisdictional pretext that will require him to wait another year or two while his case takes another detour in the lower courts. It’s a dark day when a citizen must wait in prison for three or four years before the court will even consider whether the government must prove its case against him in a court of law.

Don’t Panic: States of Emergency

Bruce Ackerman, 7 February 2002

Like it or not, terrorist attacks will be a recurring part of our future. The balance of technology has shifted, making it possible for a small band of zealots to wreak devastation where we least expect it – not a plane next time, but perhaps an atomic bomb in a suitcase or a biotoxin in the water supply. The attack of 11 September is the prototype of similar events that will litter the...

Framing​ a constitution for a country undergoing political upheaval is a messy and dangerous business, and it is by no means guaranteed to succeed. We think of South Africa in the early 1990s...

Read more reviews

Give me the man: The pursuit of Clinton

Stephen Holmes, 18 March 1999

How do millenarians explain themselves when the millennium skips by and the imperfect secular world fails to implode? This seemingly frivolous question is suddenly topical in Washington DC, not...

Read more reviews


Richard Tuck, 16 July 1981

The refutation of utilitarianism, and its replacement by some new and comprehensive alternative, has become one of the major Anglo-American growth industries. The problem of how to live with a...

Read more reviews

Read anywhere with the London Review of Books app, available now from the App Store for Apple devices, Google Play for Android devices and Amazon for your Kindle Fire.

Sign up to our newsletter

For highlights from the latest issue, our archive and the blog, as well as news, events and exclusive promotions.

Newsletter Preferences