A Message from 2021-2022 CWAG/AG Alliance Chair and Colorado Attorney General Phil Weiser
The American constitutional framework of self-governance has developed over generations. Lawyers are the stewards of our legal institutions and the Rule of Law, and they perfect their stewardship through training and engagement in a legal system focused on legal rigor and evidence. State Attorneys General are guided by the core values of our constitutional framework—a belief in dialogue, empathy for others, and a commitment to the collective project of working towards a more perfect union.
The state of our democratic republic is not well. Unlike the Supreme Court, where Justices Ginsburg and Scalia celebrated engagement, welcomed reflection on opposing viewpoints, and maintained warm relationships even in the face of differences of opinion, the levels of disengagement and polarization in the U.S. Congress have risen over the last two generations. By contrast, State Attorneys General still maintain a tradition of dialogue, engagement, and collaborative problem solving with one another. The goal of the Ginsburg/Scalia Initiative is to build on and celebrate this tradition, which has strong roots among western state Attorneys General.
To address the rising tribalism in our nation, we must renew and rebuild institutions that connect us to one another and foster empathy. As Jonathan Rauch explained, “institutions are enemies of tribalism, at least in the context of a liberal society. By definition, they bring people together for joint effort on common projects, which builds community.” This echoes what de Tocqueville observed long ago: “The only way opinions and ideas can be renewed, hearts enlarged, and human minds developed is through the reciprocal influence of men upon each other.”
The Ginsburg/Scalia Initiative recognizes that the project of rebuilding institutions also requires cultivating our interpersonal relationships. Fostering such relationships, particularly between public officials from different political parties and backgrounds, promises to de-escalate the heated rhetoric that is eroding trust, undermining collaborative problem-solving, and even increasing levels of hateful speech and violence in modern society. Leaders can address the rising levels of tribalism, or political sectarianism, by following the lead of Justices Ginsburg and Scalia; as a group of political scientists reported, for example, “people become less divided after observing politicians treating opposing partisans warmly, and nonpartisan statements from leaders can reduce violence.”
The Ginsburg/Scalia Initiative also recognizes that rising polarization is driven by the fact that many Americans receive their information from social media and other sources that cater to particular points of view. As reported recently, social network platforms like YouTube can function as an “echo chamber” and that, to keep people “watching, YouTube serves up videos similar to those  watched before. But the longer someone watches, the more extreme the videos can become.” As highlighted in the movie, The Social Dilemma, this dynamic—and the algorithms that drive it—threatens our democratic republic because it leads those with different viewpoints to regard “the other as alien, immoral, a threat.” To be sure, there are some positive steps on the horizon, including Twitter’s commitment to study “the biases within its algorithms as part of a new effort to try to understand how its machine learning tools can cause unintended consequences,” but there is important work to do in mending the divisions and levels of polarization in our society.
In this special convening of the Ginsburg/Scalia Initiative, the AG Alliance will discuss the state of discourse in our democratic republic and how to heal our body politic. The goal of this project, to be explored at this convening, is how we might work towards a more perfect union through listening, dialogue, and collaborative problem solving. As lawyers, we are at our best when we lead with empathy, operate with a learning and growth mindset, and look for win-win solutions. In this convening, we will discuss how to bring such values into our political discourse, following the model of Justices Ginsburg and Scalia, as Justice Ginsburg discussed not long before her passing.