Unfit for Democracy

The Roberts Court and the Breakdown of American Politics

416 pages

January, 2016

ISBN: 9780814732427



Also available in




Stephen E. Gottlieb is the Jay and Ruth Caplan Distinguished Professor of Law at Albany Law School and author of numerous books on jurisprudence and constitutional law.

All books by Stephen E. Gottlieb

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.


  • “Almost unique in its intellectual and global scope and ambition. . . . Gottlieb is an outstanding constitutional lawyer, and it is clear that he commands the relevant political science as well.”

    —H. Jefferson Powell, Duke University

  • “The richness of the book is in its comprehensiveness and almost encyclopedic approach to discussing Supreme Court jurisprudence and in also providing a broader discussion of the conditions essential or at least associated with democracy.”

    —David Schultz, Hamline University

  • “Gottlieb has written a stunning book about democracy, focusing on the Supreme Court through history and today, but also looking comparatively at the experience of other countries. This is a work about law, political science, and history and is filled with important insights  about what causes democracies to succeed or fail. The book culminates in a forceful critique of the Roberts Court and how it has damaged American democracy. This is an important book, impressive in its scope and its analysis, and the cautions it offers for the future of democracy in the United States.”

    —Erwin Chemerinsky, Dean and Distinguished Professor of Law, University of California, Irvine, School of Law

  • “In this passionate, copiously footnoted volume, law professor Stephen Gottlieb ambitiously combines methods of history, political science and legal analysis to assess the state of American democracy.”

    Law and Politics Book Review

  • “Gottlieb provides a worthy contribution to the scholarly literature on the role of courts in the US.”