This year to consider “The Future of Democracy”

Justice Elena Kagan of the U.S. Supreme Court will join Dean Marcus Cole of Notre Dame Law School for the 2023-24 Notre Dame Forum. 

Kagan, who was nominated to the Supreme Court by President Barack Obama in 2010 and formerly served as dean of Harvard Law School, will discuss “The Future of Democracy.”

This year’s topic, “The Future of Democracy,” is the fourth Notre Dame Forum to discuss elections or democracy, but the first to do so in a non-presidential election year. 

Notre Dame Vice President Ann Firth explained the choice: “We are approaching the question about the future of democracy with a global lens, so it’s not tied to whether or not this is an election year in the U.S. As you probably also know, Democracy is one of the major themes of the new Strategic Framework for the University (just released on Aug. 30), which will guide our efforts for the next ten years.”

Additionally, the Forum’s announcement states, “In recent years democratic norms and institutions have come under attack in the United States and around the world.” The announcement continues, “In August 2022, then United Nations [UN] High Commissioner for Human Rights Michelle Bachelet reported that the global state of democracy is fragile.”

In the August 2022 speech that the announcement references, Bachenet noted that “the level of democracy enjoyed globally by the average person was down to 1989 levels.”

Bachelet suggested what it means to her for the state of democracy to be “fragile” in a separate  summer 2022 UN Statement: “The US Supreme Court ruling on Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization delivered today represents a major setback after five decades of protection for sexual and reproductive health and rights in the US through Roe v. Wade […]

“Access to safe, legal and effective abortion is firmly rooted in international human right [sic] law and is at the core of women and girls’ autonomy and ability to make their own choices about their bodies and lives, free of discrimination, violence and coercion.”

Justice Kagan, whose lecture was announced with reference to Bachenet’s fears, argued to uphold Roe v. Wade and co-wrote the dissent to the Supreme Court’s decision in Dobbs.

In addition to Firth and Notre Dame President Fr. John Jenkins, C.S.C., this year’s advisory committee for the Forum includes five Notre Dame professors—largely from the Department of Political Science and the Keough School of Global Affairs—and the Vice President of Federal and Washington Relations, Laura Parker McAleer

Firth explained the role of the advisory committee, “Its membership is based on the ND Forum theme for the year—those serving this year are faculty scholars whose work relates directly to our theme of ‘The Future of Democracy,’ either in the U.S. or internationally.”

Firth continued, stating that the advisory committee “is invaluable as we think about speakers and events that might advance our campus-wide conversation.” She concluded, “We also collaborate and consult with student government, both for undergraduates and for graduate students, as student engagement is critical to the success of the Forum.”

One of the political science professors on the committee, Prof. Christina Wolbrecht, spoke on the panel “Post-Roe America: Making Intersection Feminist Sense of Abortion Bans,” which the Rover reported on last fall. Wolbrecht declined to comment about the Notre Dame Forum.

Professor Matthew Hall, Director of the Rooney Center for the Study of American Democracy, responded to the Rover’s inquiry about the selection of Justice Kagan for the Notre Dame Forum: “I’m afraid I wasn’t involved in that decision. Sorry I can’t help you.” 

David Campbell, a professor of political science and another member of the advisory committee, told the Rover that he was not involved in the decision to invite Justice Kagan.  He added that he hopes “as many Notre Dame students as possible attend this event, as it is a rare opportunity to hear from a justice of the Supreme Court.” 

Professor Aníbal Pérez-Liñán declined to comment. No other member of the advisory committee responded to the Rover’s request for comment.    

Justice Kagan will be the fifth Supreme Court Justice to speak at Notre Dame in the past two years, following Justices Clarence Thomas, Amy Coney Barrett, Brett Kavanaugh, and Samuel Alito. Kagan will be the first Democrat-appointed Justice to speak at Notre Dame since Justice Ginsburg’s 2016 lecture.

Her lecture is scheduled to be the second event in this year’s Notre Dame Forum, following the performance of “What the Constitution Means to Me.” It will be held September 22 at 2:30 p.m, in the Leighton Concert Hall of the DeBartolo Performing Arts Center. It is a free but ticketed event.

W. Joseph DeReuil is a senior studying too many things. When he graduates he will be opening a restaurant and painting studio, both of which he will manage in his spare time. Send tips on how to bilocate to

Photo Credit: The Harvard Law Record via Creative Commons

Subscribe to the Irish Rover here.

Donate to the Irish Rover here.