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May 06, 2024 ABA Task Force for American Democracy

Reinvigorating American Democracy – A Youth Perspective

Katherine Moss and Nisha Lee

Background—What is American Democracy and What Is Its Value to Americans?

The United Nations consolidated a list of fundamental requirements for a democracy.  So perhaps a starting point for defining American Democracy is to go through each requirement in the UN’s list and explain how American Democracy satisfies each requirement:

The UN’s Essential List for Democracy American Democracy
Respect for human rights and fundamental freedoms


Bill of rights; Amendments 13, 14, 15, 19, 23, 24, and 26

The Courts also protect and define Americans’ rights and freedoms. See, Brown v. Bd. of Educ., 347 U.S. 483, (1954); Gideon v. Wainwright, 372 U.S. 335, 9 L.Ed.2d 799 (1963); Shelley v. Kraemer, 334 U.S. 1, 92 L.Ed. 1161 (1948)

Freedom of association

The Supreme Court has held that the First and Fourteenth Amendments protect freedom of association. NAACP v. Ala. ex rel. Patterson, 357 U.S. 449, 460-61.

Freedom of expression and opinion

The First Amendment to the Constitution protects our Freedom of Speech.

Access to power and its exercise in accordance with the Rule of Law

Citizen action (lobbying, elections, notice and comment, free and independent press offers a check on the government), grassroots movements–there is room for improvement when it comes to access (See World Justice Project Rule of Law Index Factors)

The holding of periodic free and fair elections by universal suffrage and by secret ballot as the expression of the will of the people

Elections are held at the federal, state, and local levels. Under Federal law elections are held in even-numbered years, with presidential elections occurring every four years, and congressional elections occurring every two years. (See Federal Voting Assistance Program)

A pluralistic system of political parties and organizations

While the Constitution did not create a party system, early American politics gave rise to a two-party system that still exists today. While there are more than two political parties in the U.S., the prevailing parties are the Democratic and the Republican parties.

The separation of powers

The Constitution created three separate powers: Article I describes the Congress, the Legislative branch. Article II describes the President and the Vice President; the Executive branch. Article III created the court system, which makes up our judicial branch.

The Independence of the Judiciary

The Constitution provides that judges "shall hold their Offices during good Behaviour." The term "good behaviour" is interpreted to mean that judges may serve for the remainder of their lives, although they may resign or retire voluntarily. This is one way the Judiciary is shielded from any undue influence from the Executive and Legislative branches.

Transparency and Accountability in Public Administration

Freedom of the Press, transparency laws such as FOIA, impeachment and removal processes.

Free, independent, and pluralistic media

The First Amendment protects the freedom of the press.

While being a citizen of a democracy has many values including the ones set forth above, living in a democracy also has many other tangible values, many of which are not known to the general public, including:

Problem Statement

Despite the above described advantages, only about half of young Americans say Democracy is the best form of government, indicating something needs to be done to improve American’s understanding of the value of our democracy as well as their passion for defending the same. 

Possible Solutions

Solution #1: Reinvigorate Civics Education in Primary/Secondary/High School

In our schools, American educators report while there has been a renewed interest in civics, proficiency in civics is stagnant. The ABA could consider organizing guest speakers going to high schools to share information on American Democracy and ways for young people to educate themselves and become involved.  Additionally, some states require civics education in school whereas others do not.  Making civics a standard piece of the curriculum every year (through modules, lesson plans, other activities) would be key here.  The Federal Judicial Center has some excellent lesson plans for teachers on their website to teach about the judicial branch.

Solution #2:  Leverage Social Media to Spread the Word about Democracy

Youth in America today are facile with numerous different social media platforms.  They spend more time on these platforms than any previous generation, and do not appear to consume news from traditional news media sources.  So, engaging youth in their space is critical. A key point that must be taken into consideration here is that the spokespeople for democracy on social media platforms should come from both political parties to achieve the widest possible audience.  In addition, these spokespeople should resonate with youth and wide swathes of the public.  For example, enlisting celebrities like Jay-Z, Taylor Swift, Tim McGraw would reach different sectors of society, while athlete spokespeople like Tom Brady, Steph Curry, and Kyle Busch would also reach different demographics.  Entertainers and content creators for social media are extremely well-known by the young, but less so by the older generations.  Casting a wide net in a “democracy media blitz” could serve the important function of engaging the public where they are. 

Solution #3: Leverage Streaming Platforms to Spread the Word about Democracy

As of 2023, Americans spend an average of 3 hours and 9 minutes a day on streaming services such as Netflix, Hulu, Amazon Prime, Apple TV and YouTube to mention just a few.  At a total of over 21 hours per week it is hard to understate the impact these services can have, especially when an overwhelming 99% of U.S. households now subscribe to at least one or more streaming services. A host of creative programming on democracy, including things like a Documentary on American Democracy and the Rule of Law by someone like Ken Burns would have the potential to reach a lot of Americans at times that work for their schedules.

Solution #4:  Reach the Public Where They Are and When They Have Time

In addition to formal education, social media and streaming services, there exist a host of other places at which the public can be reached and educated on democracy.  These places include churches and place of worship, movies theatres (i.e., short trailers on the value of democracy), airplanes (democracy and Rule of Law “info-spots” that follow the safety announcement), and public service spots on democracy that play between episodes in popular games such as Candy Crush.

This document has been submitted to the Task Force for American Democracy for consideration and has been posted and/or circulated for information purposes only. The views expressed herein represent the opinions of the author(s) and not those of the Task Force or the ABA. They have not been reviewed or approved by the House of Delegates or the Board of Governors of the American Bar Association and, accordingly, should not be construed as representing the position of the Association or any of its entities. This publication is freely available to download, copy and distribute provided there is attribution to the ABA Task Force for American Democracy, and provided this notice is reproduced on all copies.

    Katherine Moss

    Georgia State College of Law

    Katherine Moss is a second-year law student at Georgia State College of Law. After graduating from the University of Georgia in 2016 she joined the Army as an Explosive Ordnance Disposal (EOD) Officer. During her time in the military, she served in several different roles, including Platoon Leader and EOD Officer-in-Charge of North-West Africa in support of Special Operations-Africa. While at GSU, she enjoys participating in Pro-Bono opportunities, and has completed an internship with the Federal Defenders Program for the Northern District of Georgia. In her free time, you can find Katherine enjoying Italian food, reading fantasy novels, and spending time with her family.

    Nisha Lee

    Georgia State College of Law

    Nisha Lee is a second-year law student at GSU Law. She graduated from Georgia Tech in 2020, where she majored in public policy. During her time in undergrad, she worked for several public sector organizations, including the Georgia Lt. Governor's Office and Lucy McBath's congressional campaign. After her time at Georgia Tech, she worked at Comcast for two years on the Government Affairs team, where she served as a project manager for a large settlement negotiation. So far, during her time at GSU, she has interned in the CDC's Office of General Counsel and hopes to practice health law in the future.