The State of Democracy: The 2022 Midterms and Beyond

Dec 9, 2022

We can’t hope to achieve meaningful progress combating the climate crisis without ensuring a more just and equitable democracy that works for everyone — especially communities who face systemic racism, have been historically excluded from the electoral process, and face the greatest impacts from environmental injustice, pollution, and the climate crisis. 

The stakes for the air we breathe, the water we drink, a livable planet, and a free and fair democracy are higher than ever — and as we’ve seen with a slim Democratic majority in Congress, every single representative and senator in every district and every state is critical to passing legislation that will meet the moment to protect our planet, promote justice, preserve our democracy, and stop harmful legislation. 

As we’ve seen time and time again, including just this week as the Supreme Court considers undermining the vital protections of state constitutions, our fundamental right to govern ourselves depends on elected and appointed officials working to protect our democracy instead of attacking it. From Congress to the state legislatures, from the White House to the county clerks, voters should be choosing their elected officials, not the other way around. Elections matter, and we need a democracy where every vote is equal and every voice is heard. 

To help the public better understand the context and state of our democracy in light of all this, LCV asked members of Congress to answer questions about how the recent midterm elections, legislative battles, SCOTUS cases, and judicial nominations will affect our democracy, and what they are doing to make sure we maintain and protect a strong, robust democracy for all.

Read their answers to our questions below:

1). How would you describe the state of our democracy? What challenges have we seen to voting rights and equitable representation over the last two years?

“Since the disastrous Citizens United decision, a torrent of dark money has been choking progress on policies that Americans support and propping up voter suppression and partisan gerrymandering. We have to break the hold special interests have on our democracy.” – Sen. Whitehouse

“We’ve all seen state politicians (including in Georgia!) put up barriers to stop folks from using their voice at the ballot box. The people have refused to be silenced but NO ONE should have to fight just to participate in our democracy.” – Rep. Nikema Williams

“This year’s midterm elections showed that our democracy remains resilient. Despite all the voter suppression laws seeking to undermine our right to vote, Americans across the country came out and voted like our democracy depended on it.” – Sen. Klobuchar

“At a critical moment for our democracy, Americans navigated new restrictive voting laws, election denialism and dark money to make their voices heard. Their calls to bolster democracy – not cast doubt on election integrity – are loud and clear.” – Rep. Sarbanes

“I would describe the state of our democracy as in peril. We have to live it to defend it — democracy isn’t just pulling a lever and checking a box – yes of course voting is critical and central to the process – but every generation must work to protect and nurture our democracy.” – Rep. Hank Johnson

2). The 117th Congress has considered several major democracy and voting rights reform bills. What have you been working on to strengthen democracy and voting rights protections and what obstacles do they face in Congress?

“I was proud to lead my Democratic colleagues on my DISCLOSE Act, which would shine a bright light on unlimited political spending from billionaires and special interest groups.” – Sen. Whitehouse

“In the summer of 2021, I got arrested for peacefully protesting the Senate’s lack of action on voting rights protections and filibuster reform. I was attending a “Brothers Day of Action on Capitol Hill” protest organized by the nonprofit group Black Voters Matter.” – Rep. Hank Johnson

“I was proud to lead the Freedom to Vote Act, which protects every American’s right to make their voice heard at the ballot box. I’ll keep working to advance voting rights reforms, because our democracy works best when all Americans can vote in the way that works best for them.” – Sen. Klobuchar

“I wrote the For the People Act because the American people have a constitutional right to vote and to have a voice in the decisions that impact their lives. We in Congress need to protect that freedom, in service to the folks who elected us in the first place.” – Sen. Merkley

“This year, Congress took up my legislation to protect voting rights, end partisan gerrymandering and rein in big money. Now we must work to reinforce the Electoral Count Act against future attacks and address the causes of hyperpartisanship and extremism.” – Rep. Sarbanes

“We are facing a national emergency when it comes to voter suppression. We need to remove obstacles to voter registration, make it easier to cast a ballot, restore voting rights for people convicted of a crime, & so much more!” – Rep. Khanna

3). Why are judicial nominations important to protecting our environment and democracy? What else do we need to do to ensure our courts work for the people and protect our rights?

“We’ve seen MAGA Republicans play the long game, loading our courts—all the way up to SCOTUS—with extreme judges who will do their party’s bidding. We need qualified judges on the bench who are dedicated to serving the people, not a conservative political agenda and corporations.” – Sen. Merkley

“As chairman of the Judiciary Subcommittee on Courts, I’ve introduced an entire portfolio of court reform bills – from the Judiciary Act that expands SCOTUS to SCERT, H.R. 7647, the Supreme Court Ethics, Recusal, and Transparency, will require justices of the Supreme Court” – Rep. Hank Johnson

“Judicial nominees must stand by the Constitution and respect precedent, but this year, the extremist Supreme Court has struck down crucial environmental protections, abortion rights and gun safety laws. I’ve cosponsored legislation to promote judicial ethics and transparency.” – Rep. Sarbanes

“For the first time in American history, there is a Black woman on the Supreme Court, and @POTUS is making sure our judiciary better represents the diversity of our county. This is about more than representation – it advances the rights of the most marginalized.” – Rep. Nikema Williams

“Right-wing donors use dark money to pack the courts so they can win through the judiciary what they can’t get through Congress. Decisions like West Virginia v. EPA could set back the climate fight – and we really don’t have time for that.” – Sen. Whitehouse

4). Yesterday, SCOTUS heard Moore v. Harper, a case challenging checks and balances that protect our elections from gerrymandered state legislatures. In October, they heard Merrill v. Milligan, which could further weaken the Voting Rights Act. Why are these cases important?

“These cases could make it easier for Republican-gerrymandered state legislatures to suppress votes and unleash partisan chaos in elections. We have to wait and see, but The Court That Dark Money Built has a worrisome record of delivering for GOP interests.” – Sen. Whitehouse

“The arguments presented in these cases threaten our free and fair elections and our democracy. That’s why the Supreme Court must reject these dangerous theories and protect the pillars of our democracy, from checks and balances to voting rights.” – Sen. Klobuchar

“These cases will decide the future of voting rights and fair representation for all. From Shelby County to Citizens United, the Supreme Court has sided with voter suppression efforts and dark money over Americans. Further rollbacks would pose a great danger to democracy.” – Rep. Sarbanes

“Challenges to the Voting Rights Act and attempts to erode protections to gerrymandering are a direct attack on voters, particularly Black and brown voters. These cases are about whether we each have an equal opportunity to shape the outcome of elections.” – Sen. Merkley

“This is a crisis y’all. This Supreme Court has ALREADY weakened the Voting Rights Act. Now they’ve taken up cases to elimate the VRA’s limits on racial gerrymandering and give state legislatures unchecked power to silence our votes and voices.” – Rep. Nikema Williams

5). What are some of the biggest threats to democracy in 2023 and ahead of the 2024 Presidential election? What do federal, state, and local leaders need to do to protect democracy and ensure fair and secure elections? How can the public get involved in this fight? 

“From dark money, to election deniers, to voter suppression efforts, to an ethics-free zone around our Supreme Court, our democracy faces many threats. We can help restore faith in government by passing my DISCLOSE Act, judicial ethics reform and strong voting rights legislation.” – Sen. Whitehouse

“We see all over the globe that holding an election doesn’t guarantee a real democracy.  We need to fiercely defend the integrity of our elections to ensure that all of our citizens have an equal voice in shaping our government.” – Sen. Merkley

“Y’all, the answer is clear: the Senate can’t keep choosing the Jim Crow-era filibuster over our democracy. End the filibuster. Protect the right to vote. It’s time. #PassItOn” – Rep. Nikema Williams

“I’m focused on making sure we have the tools to fight back against threats to our democracy, from tackling election misinformation to protecting election workers. I encourage everyone to keep speaking up about the need to safeguard our fundamental right to vote.” – Sen. Klobuchar

“I agree that election deniers & the spread of disinformation are serious threats, particularly those based on the big lie. I would add the rise of white supremacists and violence – the embrace of violent extremists by a small but growing faction of the Republican Party.” – Rep. Hank Johnson