Bruce Ackerman

Bruce Ackerman is a professor of law at Yale and the author of We the People.

Recent Articles

How Biden Could Fix the Senate

If Biden is willing to exercise the power granted him in the Constitution, he could do more than pass health care. He could undo the filibuster rules that threaten to deadlock our system of government.

(White House/Pete Souza)
The question of whether Congress will fulfill the dream of every modern Democratic president and pass health reform now rests on the intersection of two of the most complicated bits of congressional procedure -- the Senate's filibuster rule, which has become a 60-vote supermajority requirement, and the budget reconciliation process, which sets time limits for debate and thus can be a way around the filibuster. The current plan is to avoid the filibuster by having the House pass the bill that passed the Senate last year and then using reconciliation to make changes. This complex, but entirely legitimate, approach makes an unelected employee of the Senate, the parliamentarian Alan Frumin, a critical figure in the weeks ahead. The parliamentarian polices the procedural rules governing the filibuster as well as what can be legitimately included in reconciliation. But the parliamentarian doesn't have the last word on Senate procedure -- that power belongs to the vice president, Joe Biden,...

Why We Need a Commission on Presidential Power

We should not look upon presidential lawlessness as if it were an odd aberration of the Bush years.

President Barack Obama started strong by announcing the end of torture and the closing of Guantánamo, but he has recently taken a more equivocal attitude toward the Bush constitutional legacy. While rejecting his predecessor's extreme claims, he continues to assert the presidential power to hold terrorists without trial and to keep state secrets from the courts. And he has already issued his first signing statement denouncing a few provisions of the stimulus package as unconstitutionally limiting his executive prerogatives. These decisions have unleashed a flood of anxious commentary about Obama's ultimate intentions. But the discussion has only served to divert public attention from the real question confronting the new administration. Barack Obama is no George W. Bush -- he will indeed cut back substantially on unilateral assertions of power. The big question is whether he will take effective steps to prevent the next president from reversing course yet again and using the...

The Great Repudiator?

If history is any guide, the next four years will be shaped by how Obama confronts the Bush administration's abuses of power.

Barack Obama's decisive victory reaffirms a pattern that dates back to the dawn of the Republic. Every 30 years or so, a new popular movement challenges established party identification and precipitates a reorganization of the electorate. From Jefferson to Jackson, Jackson to Lincoln, Lincoln to William Jennings Bryan, Bryan to Franklin D. Roosevelt, and FDR to Martin Luther King Jr., this cycle of change plays out with remarkable regularity. Twenty-eight years after the most recent pivotal election -- Ronald Reagan's victory in 1980 -- Obama has arrived right on schedule. The cycle is propelled by the rising generation's changing views on fundamental questions -- the role of government in the economy, the place of equality in social life, the balance between security and liberty. Voters form views in response to a crisis and hold fast until the next shock comes along. The Reagan revolution responded to the malaise of the 1970s. Long gas lines, inflation, judicial activism, and the...

Fixing the System Obama Broke

We need a fundamentally different way of allocating public funds to political candidates.

Barack Obama's rejection of public financing for the general election confronts us with a stark choice: Rethink the system or let it die. The current program has failed to generate sustained public support for good reason. It puts citizens on the sidelines and merely involves the bureaucratic transfer of funds from the Treasury to candidates who voluntarily forego private money. Given the lack of direct citizen involvement, it's not surprising that fewer than 10 percent of Americans support the campaign fund by checking off a box on their tax forms. It is tempting, but wrong, to suppose that Obama's success in mobilizing small donors shows that a deeper reform isn't necessary. Few candidates will be able to match his success, and most small donations come from relatively rich people. A study of $100 contributions in 2005 showed that more than half came from individuals earning $75,000 to $250,000 at a time when the average income was $46,000. But Obama's success does show that...

An Inheritance for All

Hillary Clinton's support for baby bonds is one of the boldest ideas we've seen so far in the campaign -- and it could be funded by reinstating the federal estate tax.

Perhaps Hillary Clinton is a risk-taker after all. In a forum sponsored by the Congressional Black Caucus, Clinton pushed beyond the banalities of campaign rhetoric to offer a bold idea: Every child should have the right to share in the inherited wealth created by preceding generations. Whether the child is a child of a single mom or a pair of yuppies, the kid remains an American. As a citizen, he or she should receive a baby bond of $5,000 that represents an inheritance from the wealth created by his predecessors. By the time the child reaches 18, this bond will grow to $10,000 or more, depending on the interest rate, providing a citizen inheritance at a crucial moment of transition to adult life -- helping with the costs of college or job training, saving for a home or creating a rainy-day fund. Provided that the bond-holder has graduated from high school, it will be up to him or her to control the use of the money. That's what being a grown-up is all about -- taking responsibility...