The effectiveness of the U.S. Supreme Court on democracy was called into question during a debate hosted by the NYU Review and Debates Organization at Vanderbilt Hall this Tuesday.
NYU School of Law Dean Trevor Morrison, with support from CAS junior Michael DeLuca, attempted to pass a resolution claiming the Supreme Court undermines American democracy. CAS junior Wenbo Wang and CAS senior Laura Adkins debated in opposition of Morrison’s proposition.
Former NYU Dean of Law and President John Sexton, who attended the event alongside his predecessor for the former, Richard Revesz, praised the manner of debate.
“The institution of these debates is absolutely brilliant,” Sexton said. “It adds something to our community which is significant and elevating. It was the best one I’ve seen so far. I was proud of our Dean [Morrison], but frankly, even prouder of the three students [Wang, Deluca and Adkins].”
The night began with Morrison’s opening remarks on behalf of the proposition, in which he argued the Supreme Court is not a direct participant of the American democratic system.
Wang opened the opposition’s case by stating that American democracy is not popular democracy, it is a very specific form of democracy that takes many different elements.
After DeLuca and Adkins backed their respective debate partners, the spectators asked the debaters a series of questions. Once audience participation was exhausted, closing statements were given.
Wang ended his debate with a reference to Alexander Hamilton.
“The Court would serve democracy rather than thwart it because the Constitution represented the will of the people, while federal and state laws merely represented the will of the people’s temporary and fallible representatives,” Wang said.
However, Morrison concluded by saying the Supreme Court functions as a check on our democracy.
“The point here is a simple one: the power of judicial review, or exercise of the power of judicial review, is in itself when the court exercises the power of judicial review, it undermines the American democracy,” Morrison said.
The voting results were 45-3 in favor of the proposition, which resolves that the Supreme Court does undermine American democracy. However, the victorious Morrison, who, despite being assigned the argument of the proposition, agreed with the opposition on some points.
“I don’t think this is an exercise in trying to persuade people in fact of the rightness or wrongness of one side or another,” Morrison said. “I think the value of this session is engagement in deep issues of law and public policy and government and certainly this organization is committed to doing that. I think the big takeaway from tonight is students coming together in the evening to think deeply and hard about issues that matter.”
CAS junior Krishna Kulkar dove into the specifics of the debate, suggesting that the debaters spent too much time defining American democracy, which the debaters kept saying was a lost cause due to the complicated nature of democracy.
“I think what they missed out on was talking about the really interesting part, which was what actually undermines democracy,” Kulkar said.
Email Jake Steel at [email protected]