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Judgment Days for Democracy

With the rise of populist, anti-democratic political movements and parties, many democracies are increasingly relying on the courts to uphold their constitutional order. In these cases, unelected judges' apparent lack of democratic accountability has become a strength.

LONDON – Day by day, week by week, courts are increasingly becoming the front line in the struggle to preserve democracy from populists and authoritarians. In the United States, the Supreme Court recently heard oral arguments on a decision by Colorado’s highest court that Donald Trump is ineligible to appear on the state’s presidential ballot, owing to his role in the January 6, 2021, insurrection at the US Capitol. And an appellate court has ruled against Trump’s claim that presidents enjoy immunity for any action taken while in office.

Moreover, a state court in New York has just imposed a $354 million penalty on Trump for financial fraud. That comes on top of $83 million awarded by the jury in a case where Trump was accused of defaming a woman who had successfully sued him for sexual assault. In addition to barring him from holding any senior role in a New York-based company for the next three years, these two rulings will likely strip Trump of almost all his available cash holdings.

Meanwhile, across the Atlantic, the United Kingdom’s Conservative government has been trying to pass a migrant-relocation bill that is intended to bypass a UK Supreme Court ruling late last year overturning similar legislation. In Israel, the country’s highest court recently struck down an amendment to the Basic Law that would have curtailed its own authority. And in Germany, the Constitutional Court recently ruled that public funding can be denied to the far-right, anti-democratic Die Heimat party, leading to speculation that it could consider a similar case involving the increasingly popular Alternative für Deutschland (AfD).