Professor Max Stearns proposes path to repair America’s broken democracy in new book

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In his forthcoming book Parliamentary America: The Least Radical Means of Radically Repairing Our Broken Democracy (Johns Hopkins University Press; March 5, 2024), University of Maryland Francis King Carey School of Law Professor Maxwell Stearns offers an optimistic vision for repairing America’s broken political system. The solution, posits Stearns, is a specific brand of parliamentary democracy that answers the call for reform to both America’s electoral system and means of executive accountability. 

In building his case, Stearns explains why such leading alternatives as ranked choice voting, the national popular vote, and congressional term limits cannot succeed in repairing our democracy, could not be implemented, or both. Instead, Stearns, whose research combines game theory and the study of group decision making with constitutional analysis, proposes a new approach combining three constitutional amendments designed to produce a robust, multiparty democracy. The amendments expand the House of Representatives, adopting a method of proportional representation; empower House party coalitions to choose the president; and authorize the House to end a failing presidency based on no confidence.  

A defining aspect that differentiates the plan Stearns outlines in Parliamentary America is that, in contrast with many other plans for reform, all members of the House and Senate would remain incumbents in their districts or states. This feature makes these reforms more palatable, and more likely to succeed, than those that threaten the status of current members of Congress, asserts the seasoned constitutional scholar. 

Early reaction to the book places Stearns as a thought leader in democracy reform. 

“Amid all the justified concern over democratic backsliding in America, too few observers have dared to say that it is time for a thorough rethink of the very basic constitutional structure,” writes Matthew Shugart, a political science professor at the University of California, Davis, and a leading expert in comparative voting systems, in a blurb for the book. “Stearns boldly lays out a plan to move the country toward a parliamentary form of government with a proportionally elected legislature. This is the most important book written on American constitutional structure in decades.” 

Characterized by an accessible parlance, Parliamentary America engages readers through a world tour that includes England, France, Germany, Israel, Taiwan, Brazil, and Venezuela, exploring what works in government, what doesn’t, and how to integrate the best features into America’s system. 

"Genuine party competition and governing coalitions, commonplace across the globe, may seem like a fantasy in the United States,” says Stearns. “But we can make them a reality.” 

Maryland Carey Law will host an event on Feb. 1, featuring a book talk and dinner reception to celebrate the publication of Parliamentary America, which is now available for preorder, with a 30% publisher discount, and scheduled to be published March 5 from Johns Hopkins University Press. Members of the University of Maryland, Baltimore, community are invited to register. Stearns will present the book talk from 5 to 6:30pm with an informal dinner reception immediately following. 

The book event will kick off the first in-person biennial Maryland Carey Law Virtual Constitutional Law and Economics Workshop. Run by Stearns since 2017 via Zoom, the workshop brings together scholars from leading institutions across the U.S. and around the world. This year the assemblage will convene at Maryland Carey Law. 

Following the book’s publication, Stearns will have a busy schedule of talks and appearances across the country with early engagements scheduled at the Zocalo Public Square in Los Angeles, Politics and Prose in Washington, DC, the Pratt library in Baltimore, and many more to come. Already, he has presented the Lane Lecture at the University of Nebraska and talks at the John F. Kennedy Hyannis Museum in Massachusetts, and for the Lawyers' Round Table of Baltimore. 

Stearns is the Venable, Baetjer & Howard Professor of Law at Maryland Carey Law, where he teaches Constitutional Law I and II (Governance and Individual Rights) and Law and Economics. Previously, he was a professor at George Mason University School of Law and has taught courses in law and economics, public choice, and constitutional law at the University of Aberdeen, Aberdeen, Scotland; the Buchmann Faculty of Law, Tel Aviv University, Tel Aviv, Israel; Griffith University, Brisbane, Australia; and Canterbury University Department of Economics and Finance, Christchurch, New Zealand (as a visiting Erskine Fellow). He has been a visiting professor at the University of Florida, Fredric G. Levin College of Law, and at the University of Michigan Law School. 

Stearns is also the author of Law and Economics: Private and Public (West Academic 2018) (with Todd Zywicki and Tom Miceli) and Constitutional Process: A Social Choice Analysis of Supreme Court Decision Making (University of Michigan Press, paperback edition 2002), among other titles. His scholarly articles appear in leading academic journals, including Yale Law Journal, University of Pennsylvania Law Review, California Law Review, Stanford Law Review, Georgetown Law Journal, Notre Dame Law Review, Vanderbilt Law Review, and The University of Pennsylvania Journal of Constitutional Law