Blog of the International Journal of Constitutional Law

Virtual Book Review Roundtable: “Unfit for Democracy” Featuring Stephen Gottlieb, Peter Quint and Dana Schmalz

Richard Albert, Boston College Law School

In this latest edition of our virtual book review roundtable series here at I-CONnect, Peter Quint and Dana Schmalz comment on Stephen Gottlieb’s new book entitled Unfit for Democracy: The Roberts Court and the Breakdown of American Politics, published earlier this year by New York University Press. Though it is not evident from its provocative title, this book falls squarely within our interests in comparative public law. Here is a short description:

Asked if the country was governed by a republic or a monarchy, Benjamin Franklin replied, “A republic, if you can keep it.”

Since its founding, Americans have worked hard to nurture and protect their hard-won democracy. And yet few consider the role of constitutional law in America’s survival. In Unfit for Democracy, Stephen Gottlieb argues that constitutional law without a focus on the future of democratic government is incoherent—illogical and contradictory. Approaching the decisions of the Roberts Court from political science, historical, comparative, and legal perspectives, Gottlieb highlights the dangers the court presents by neglecting to interpret the law with an eye towards preserving democracy.

A senior scholar of constitutional law, Gottlieb brings a pioneering will to his theoretical and comparative criticism of the Roberts Court. The Roberts Court decisions are not examined in a vacuum but instead viewed in light of constitutional politics in India, South Africa, emerging Eastern European nations, and others. While constitutional decisions abroad have contributed to both the breakdown and strengthening of democratic politics, decisions in the Roberts Court have aggravated the potential destabilizing factors in democratic governments. Ultimately, Unfit for Democracy calls for an interpretation of the Constitution that takes the future of democracy seriously. Gottlieb warns that the Roberts Court’s decisions have hurt ordinary Americans economically, politically, and in the criminal process. They have damaged the historic American melting pot, increased the risk of anti-democratic paramilitaries, and clouded the democratic future.

Dana Schmalz, a former Research Associate at the Max Planck Institute for Comparative Public Law and International Law, is now a graduate student in comparative legal thought at Cardozo Law School.

Peter Quint is the Jacob A. France Professor Emeritus of Constitutional Law at the University of Maryland Francis King Carey School of Law

And Stephen Gottlieb is the Jay and Ruth Caplan Distinguished Professor of Law at Albany Law School.

The full discussion runs for 56 minutes, and is available here. We thank these three scholars for participating in our virtual book review roundtable series.

Suggested CitationVirtual Book Review Roundtable: “Unfit for Democracy” Featuring Stephen Gottlieb, Peter Quint and Dana Schmalz, Int’l J. Const. L. Blog, May 6, 2016, at:


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