Our Democracy is in Danger

According to Freedom House data, the growth and spread of democracies that defined the 20th Century peaked in the early days of the 21st; since 2005, the state of democracies around the world has receded. In countries like Hungary, Poland, Turkey and Venezuela, autocrats have slowly dismantled democratic systems, leaving governments that are for the most part democracies in name only. Recent events in the United States have sounded a powerful alarm that, if we are not careful, our democracy could suffer a similar fate. The present actions of domestic leaders who exhibit decidedly illiberal and autocratic tendencies has exposed an undercurrent in our politics at odds with the healthy democracy that has been building for years. For example, thirty years ago, one in sixteen Americans expressed comfort with the idea of military rule; today that number is one in six.

Protect Democracy formed to prevent American Democracy from declining into a more authoritarian form of government

Protect Democracy was founded in early 2017 by a group of former high-level executive branch officials who served in the White House Counsel’s Office and upper-echelons of the Department of Justice and have unique knowledge of the norms that have constrained presidential power for decades and when those in power may be tempted to violate them. As many of us defended past presidents against legitimate oversight and illegitimate attacks, we also know how to leverage tools outside government to prevent the exploitation of power within it. We have since assembled a group of some of the world’s leading experts who have studied how other democracies have declined in the 21st Century as advisers, and are backed by a Harvard Law School clinic, pro bono relationships with many of the country’s leading law firms, and a cross-ideological advisory board ranging from President Obama’s former Solicitor General to former Reagan White House officials.

Our work is producing impact

Some of the leading scholars on autocrats helped us identify the six tactics those leaders typically employ to dismantle democracies. Our work is organized around preventing each from happening here:

Preventing the corruption of elections – We built a software application that is currently being used by Republican and Democratic election officials to protect their voter databases from foreign hacking. We also succeeded in helping shut down the Pence-Kobach “Voter Integrity” Commission, which was roundly seen as a thinly-veiled effort at voter suppression. Following that victory, we sued one of the Pence-Kobach Commission members for intimidating lawful voters in his work outside the Commission and established pathbreaking voter protection caselaw while successfully deterring him from continuing such actions. We later forced Brian Kemp to resign as Secretary of State of Georgia so that he couldn’t oversee the vote count in the gubernatorial race in which he was a candidate, and obtained a key legal ruling that the Due Process Clause limits candidates’ ability to use their office to interfere in elections in which they’re also a candidate.

Preventing the executive from aggrandizing power at the expense of competing institutions – We forced the release of the “Watergate Roadmap,” a document that had been secret for 44 years which laid out the evidence of criminal activity by Richard Nixon to the House Judiciary Committee. That document served as a blueprint for the House Judiciary Committee’s recent victory in their petition to unseal grand jury evidence from Special Counsel Mueller’s investigation. We are also challenging the President’s abuse of the pardon power and have persuaded the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals to appoint a special prosecutor in ongoing litigation over the pardon issued to former Sheriff Joe Arpaio. We have also defeated President Trump’s legal team in multiple cases in New York State courts in which they claimed that the president is immune from civil suit in state court while in office. And a federal judge in Texas has already ruled in our favor in our lawsuit to block President Trump’s emergency declaration, holding that the President’s declaration, which he issued after Congress refused to fund his border wall, violated federal law.

Preventing the delegitimization of vulnerable communities – Our lawsuit forced the Justice Department to admit that a government report linking immigrants to terrorism which was released in conjunction with the Travel Ban was based on erroneous statistics. We are now in court seeking its retraction in full and this suit has prompted oversight from Congress. As part of the coalition working to ensure a fair and accurate census, our Freedom of Information Act work helped expose and then thwart the appointment of an unqualified partisan to a top operational role at the Census Bureau.

Preventing the politicization of independent institutions – We materially impacted the national debate over whether Trump obstructed justice by organizing a letter from more than 1,000 former federal prosecutors asserting that any other American would have been prosecuted for engaging in the acts described in the Mueller Report. We then produced videos about it that were viewed more than 12 million times and ran as ads on Fox News and Sinclair. George Stephanopoulous recently pressed President Trump directly on it in an interview seen by millions.

Preventing the government from spreading disinformation – We have repeatedly forced the federal government to disclose documentary evidence showing that the President had lied. For example, we exposed that the White House lied about the FBI being in disarray under Director James Comey, that the President lied about information he claimed was provided by federal agencies to justify his Travel Ban, and that he lied about who was truly to blame for the family separation policy at the border.

Preventing the government from being able to quash dissent – We are suing the President for violating the First Amendment by using the regulatory powers of the federal government to punish media entities whose coverage he does not like. The suit received widespread positive coverage and successfully elevated the issue of the President’s retaliations against the press as First Amendment violations. The former dean of the University of Chicago Law School called the suit “critical to preserving what our nation stands for” and more than 200 journalists signed a letter supporting our case shortly after its filing.

But this is just a sampling of our work. Beyond these projects, Protect Democracy has filed more than fifty legal actions to protect democratic institutions, generated a forward-looking policy agenda for restoring democratic guardrails that is already being embraced by members of Congress and other leaders, and used strategic interventions to generate hundreds of stories in the media designed to educate the public and pressure key actors on the threats facing our democracy.

Read our most recent IRS Form 990 reports, for the Protect Democracy Project and United to Protect Democracy, here:

The Protect Democracy Project is a 501(c)(3), United to Protect Democracy is a 501(c)(4). Learn more about the difference.

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