Direct Democracy and Civic Maturation

Americans have grown deeply dissatisfied with government, convinced that our elected officials care more about feathering their own nests and guaranteeing their reelection than serving the commonwealth. Ordinary citizens believe that their representatives pay heed to the whims of wealthy and powerful special interests rather than to the public interest.

Unsurprisingly, the sense of failure of representative government has increased talk of expanding direct democracy, whereby the People themselves make laws. Predictably, debate about direct democracy has spilled into the legal academic community. The debate has two principal prongs the extent to which direct democracy meshes with American doctrine and tradition (i.e., the constitutional text and the views of the founding fathers), and the desirability of direct democracy on various public policy grounds.

Along with my co-author Akhil Amar, I entered that debate on the side of direct democracy. However, Professor Amar and I observed that not all forms of direct democracy are alike, and we called for procedures that would minimize the risks posed by direct democracy while maximizing its potential. We made broad and tentative observations about the kinds of procedures we have in mind, leaving for another day consideration of a blueprint for direct democracy.