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Response or Comment

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Columbia Law School




The “constitutional hardball” metaphor used by legal scholars and political scientists illuminates an important phenomenon in American politics, but it obscures a crisis in American democracy. In baseball, hardball encompasses legitimate tactics: pitching inside to brush a batter back but not injure, hard slides, hard tags. Baseball fans celebrate hardball. Many of the constitutional hardball maneuvers previously identified by scholars have been legitimate, if aggressive, constitutional political moves. But the label “hardball” has been interpreted too broadly to include illegitimate, fundamentally undemocratic tactics. I suggest a different baseball metaphor for such tactics: beanball, pitches meant to injure and knock out the opposing player, against the basic rules of the game.

In this Reply to Fishkin, Pozen, and Bernstein, I first address Bernstein’s examples of President Barack Obama and Democrats engaging in hardball. I note that Fishkin and Pozen’s “asymmetry” thesis acknowledged clearly that Democrats play hardball, even if not as aggressively as Republicans have. I discuss government shutdowns, birtherism, debt ceiling threats, abuses of the Department of Justice (DOJ), and the contrasting manipulations leading to the Iraq War versus the Iran nuclear deal.

This Reply then identifies examples of Republicans’ fundamentally antidemocratic beanball: voter ID laws and other voting restrictions, extreme gerrymandering, marginalizing racial minorities, and abusing the DOJ. Beanball’s destructive politics reflect racial status anxiety, paranoia, and a panic over dispossession and the loss of historical privilege.

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