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Listen to Ross Sandler & David Schoenbrod discuss Democracy by Decree with Brian Lehrer on WNYC. Recorded on 1-15-03.

Manhattan Institute Book Catalog.

Democracy by Decree:
What Happens When Courts Run Government

by Ross Sandler and David Schoenbrod
Yale University Press

Schools, welfare agencies, and a wide variety of other state and local institutions of vital importance to citizens are actually controlled by attorneys and judges rather than governors and mayors. In this valuable book, Ross Sandler and David Schoenbrod explain how this has come to pass, why it has resulted in service to the public that is worse, not better, and what can be done to restore control of these programs to democratically elected—and accountable—officials.

Sandler and Schoenbrod tell how the courts, with the best intentions and often with the approval of elected officials, came to control ordinary policy making through court decrees. These court regimes, they assert, impose rigid and often ancient detailed plans that can founder on reality. Newly elected officials, who may wish to alter the plans in response to the changing wishes of voters, cannot do so unless attorneys, court-appointed functionaries, and lower-echelon officials agree. The result is neither judicial government nor good government, say Sandler and Schoenbrod, and they offer practical reforms that would set governments free from this judicial stranglehold, allow courts to do their legitimate job of protecting rights, and strengthen democracy.

Ross Sandler is professor of law and director of New York Law School’s Center for New York City Law. David Schoenbrod is a professor at New York Law School and author of Power Without Responsibility: How Congress Abuses the People through Delegation, published by Yale University Press.


Democracy by Decree.


“This is a fascinating book for someone like me who regretted agreeing to a court-approved consent decree limiting the city's authority in programs involving prisons, welfare, education, homeless shelters, etc. The authors discuss the topic in an interesting and clear manner making it a read well worth your time.”
—Ed Koch, former mayor,
New York City

 “A compelling story with a powerful argument backed by lots of fascinating stories about judicial shipwrecks.”
—James B. Jacobs,
New York University School of Law

“Democracy by Decree shows how courts can protect rights and still let mayors and governors do their job.”
—John Sexton,
president of New York University, and dean of NYU Law School

“An easy to read, insightful and scholarly explanation of how our country's government of the people became a government of the courts. Sandler and Schoenbrod offer a measured and practical prescription for restoring democracy while still honoring rights. This book will appeal to liberals and conservatives alike.”
—Lamar Alexander,
former governor of Tennessee

“Democracy by Decree is an impressive and thoughtful analysis of the current court-centered rights culture in which it is too easy for elected officials to ‘pass the buck’ to courts while taking actions that are blatantly unconstitutional.”
—Nadine Strossen,
President, American Civil Liberties Union and professor, New York Law School

“A brilliant, well-written and brave account of how federal courts have distorted our political system by taking control of complex institutions like schools and prisons-sometimes for decades-instead of enforcing rights, which is their proper domain.”
Diane Ravitch,
New York University

“Democracy by Decree is a devastating indictment of how high-sounding legal mandates undermine the social goals they purport to guarantee. With fascinating blow-by-blow accounts, Sandler and Schoenbrod expose how advocates for one interest group inevitably undermine the interests of others and thwart the ability of those in responsibility to balance interests for the common good.”
Philip K. Howard,
Author of The Death of Common Sense

“Sandler and Schoenbrod's account-really a discovery-of the existence of a second government in our midst is meticulous, nuanced, and alarming. By showing how unilateral judicial government undermines both democracy and individual rights, they have done a significant service to both.”
—Christopher DeMuth,
president, American
Enterprise Institute