Constitutional hardball

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Constitutional hardball refers to the exploitation of procedures, laws and institutions by political actors for partisan gain in ways which violate pre-established norms and push the bounds of legality.[1][2] Legal scholars and political scientists have characterized constitutional hardball as a threat to democracy, because it undermines shared understanding of democratic norms and undermines the expectation that the other side will comply with democratic norms. As a result, the use of constitutional hardball by one side of partisans encourages other partisans to respond in similar fashion.[3][4][2] David Pozen, Professor of Law at Columbia Law School, wrote in 2018 that "the concept of constitutional hardball seemed to be passing into common usage" in the United States.[5]

Examples of constitutional hardball include the use of the debt ceiling to force others to agree to one's demands (hostage-taking), disenfranchising voters for the opposing party (voter suppression), routine use of the filibuster, routine refusal of appointments, court-packing,[6] actions by lame-duck administrations and legislatures to curb the powers of incoming legislators and administrations, and using pardoning powers on oneself or one's associates.[4][1][2][7][8][9][5] Harvard University political scientists Daniel Ziblatt and Steven Levitsky have argued that democracies such as Argentina and Venezuela, shifted to authoritarianism in part through constitutional hardball, as Juan Perón and Hugo Chavez used legal court-packing schemes to cement power.[9] It has been suggested that the use of constitutional hardball in United States Congress has strengthened the role of the executive in policy-making, as the President becomes more likely to use the powers of office to circumvent the legislature; Obama's use of executive orders is mentioned as an example of constitutional hardball.[4][10]

The concept stems from a 2004 article by Mark Tushnet of Harvard Law School.[11][12]


  1. ^ a b Pierson, Paul; Hacker, Jacob S. (2015). "Confronting Asymmetric Polarization". Solutions to Political Polarization in America. doi:10.1017/cbo9781316091906.003. Retrieved 2019-01-06.
  2. ^ a b c Levitsky, Steven; Ziblatt, Daniel (2018). "How Democracies Die". Penguin Randomhouse.
  3. ^ Jonathan Bernstein (December 4, 2018). "Constitutional Hardball Is Back. Look Out". Bloomberg.
  4. ^ a b c Valelly, Rick (2018-04-08). "Trump Meets Political Science". Washington Monthly. April/May/June 2018. ISSN 0043-0633. Retrieved 2019-01-07.
  5. ^ a b David Pozen (2018-10-11). "Hardball and/as Anti-Hardball". Lawfare. Retrieved 2019-01-07.
  6. ^ Scott Lemieux (May 2018). "Democrats: Prepare to Pack the Supreme Court". The New Republic. Retrieved 13 January 2019.
  7. ^ Matthews, Dylan (2018-07-02). "Court-packing, Democrats' nuclear option for the Supreme Court, explained". Vox. Retrieved 2019-01-07.
  8. ^ Melber, Ari. "What happens when losers of elections won't relinquish power?". The Washington Post.
  9. ^ a b Levitsky, Steven; Ziblatt, Daniel (2018-01-27). "Opinion | How Wobbly Is Our Democracy?". The New York Times. ISSN 0362-4331. Retrieved 2019-01-07.
  10. ^ Yglesias, Matt. "American democracy is doomed". Vox.
  11. ^ Mark V. Tushnet, Constitutional Hardball, 37 J. Marshall L. Rev. 523-553 (2004).
  12. ^ "Republicans in Wisconsin and Michigan want to weaken incoming Democratic governors. Here's what's the usual partisan politics — and what isn't". The Washington Post. 2018.