Trump is extreme, but he is not the first president to breach core constitutional norms. Our system relies on checks and balances, constitutional commands that are implicit in our founding document but often not spelled out with specificity. Everyone in the political process must act as if limited by invisible guardrails to avoid abuse of power. But at moments of stress or executive impudence, what was assumed to be a solid restriction on improper conduct turns out to be flimsy, relying too much on goodwill or unspoken understandings. When that happens, reform often follows scandal and controversy.
Today, we’re launching an independent democracy task force at the Brennan Center for Justice at New York University’s School of Law to holistically review these informal rules, which ones should remain guidelines, and perhaps which ones should be enshrined into law. We’ll examine norms surrounding financial conflicts, political interference with law enforcement, the use of government data and science, the appointment of public officials and any other issues that may arise in the coming months. We will be joined by experts and former officials from both parties. The goal is to issue a set of recommendations, policies that can be enacted that mend the gaps in our system and ensure we have a government that functions ably, competently and with the trust of the American people.