Diversity and representivity

Some question has arisen concerning my proposals for selecting public officials using a multi-stage process of alternative sortition (random selection) and merit selection, similar to the Venetian model, whether the process is only suited for selecting an executive, but not conducive to diversity or representivity in a legislative body.

The value of diversity is to bring arguments and facts into the deliberative process that have merit but might otherwise be overlooked. It is a mistake to conflate it with representivity, which is about allowing minority interests to be heard during deliberation, exercise influence proportional to their numbers, and the perceived legitimacy of decisions made. Any reduction in the number of decisionmakers, necessary to enable deliberation to be efficient, is going to reduce diversity and representivity among decisionmakers to a large extent, but if they are selected wisely, and are wise, they will seek out diverse and representative opinion during the course of their deliberation. That is what hearings and letters from constituents are all about, if attention is paid to merit. (Even nomothetai have constituents.)

There are two  main meanings of representativity: (1) Having a distribution of attributes similar to that of the pool from which representatives are drawn; and (2) Being accountable to constituents for their conduct and in the ways they represent their interests. Election, and re-election, are perceived as critical ways to hold representatives accountable, in a way they would not be if they were selected entirely at random and served for only short periods of time. The desire to get re-elected, or to gain higher office, requires building a reputation for competence and trustworthiness, which in turn enables building influence. On the other hand, election, especially when the result depends in large part on expensive campaigns, is susceptible to undue influence by special interests who focus their financial and other support more than does the general public. A design principle, therefore, is to enable selection of the most reputable without also imparting excessive influence to them. This dictates a multistage selection process in which sortition alternates with merit selection based on things like reputation, professional achievement, or perhaps performance on tests. Accountability could be realized in several ways, such as with retention or recall elections. Let trust go to the trustworthy.

The general population may mostly lack domain knowledge of the issues, but they can do a good job, if asked to deliberate about it, of selecting those among themselves who are wiser and more knowledgeable about policy matters. By having successive rounds of sortition and merit selection, it can be expected that, unless they are all caught up in unthinking passion or devotion to charismatic leaders, there will be an emergence of the wisest and most knowledgeable among them to the final decisionmaking positions, and that is the best we can reasonably hope for, given the limitations of human beings. The only way to overcome that is to turn over decisionmaking to machines, and we are not ready for that as a species or as machinemakers.

My solution for legislative bodies is a bicameral system using different selection processes. One body, call it the Senate, would use the multi-stage sortition/merit process, and the other would use proxy voting http://constitution.org/voting/proxy_voting.htm . The two houses would combine the advantages of each process, allowing diverse and representative voices to be heard, but also serve as a check on one another, to block a rush to judgment.

I would also apply the sortition/merit process to selection of judges, much the way we are already supposed to do for trial and grand juries. Judges might be appointed for life, not to a particular court, but to a general judicial pool from which they would be drawn at random to serve on courts and hear cases.
It is all set forth at http://constitution.org/reform/us/con_amend.htm


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When I founded the Constitution Society in 1994, and later set up its website, committed defenders of the Constitution, as originally meant and understood, were rare, and dismissed by most decisionmakers and opinion leaders as hopelessly idealistic. We were regarded as holding "fringe views", out of the "mainstream",  that did not enjoy enough support to be worthy of recognition or participation in serious discussion forums.

But we persisted, and more and more joined us. Whereas when we started there was little mention of the Constitution in political debates, now it is everywhere. Most people who claim to support it don't really understand what it requires of us, but at least they are beginning to learn.

Not that there have not been many other organizations in the field claiming to support the Constitution. They have held meetings, and written papers and books, and occasionally testified before Congress. (So would we if we had the money.) Some of these other organizations were moderately fashionable and attracted large donations, but not by embracing controversy or developing specific solutions. They have played it safe, while we have boldly stepped forward and proclaimed things unconstitutional, proposed specific solutions, and defended those positions in forums that matter. (We also offer opposing views an opportunity to be heard.)

Have you never wondered why members of Congress who proclaim they support the right to keep and bear arms don't just introduce bills to repeal all the unconstitutional federal gun control laws? Or even draft legislation for public debate? We have two bills that do that, one for the federal government and one for state governments. Are they sincere, or do they just want the issue to remain alive, bringing them support for re-election, without seriously seeking to finally settle the issue? For how many other constitutional violations are they and other decisionmakers and opinion leaders doing the same thing? Have you seen much legislation to fix the problems? Or many cases filed in court? Or do they seem to be just trying to keep low profiles, hoping the public outrage will subside so they can get back to business as usual?

Now they do introduce a few bills once in a while, but how many of them are really well-conceived and well-written? Examine most of them more carefully and you will find they are unworkable except to get people who don't know better excited. That is not responsible legislating. It is just cheap political entertainment.

We are making a difference. Many decisionmakers and opinion leaders tell us so. They admit they go to our website first when seeking answers to constitutional questions. Everything they need is on one site, and if not, we will add it within minutes.

We have never charged dues, or charged for publications we produce, which we put online for free. We don't  believe in charging for the information people need to defend the Constitution. There are many others who do charge, usually for things of little value, or even for misinformation that can get people into trouble, yet people pay for that because they mistakenly think that if they have to pay for something it must somehow be more valuable. We refuse to play that game.

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You will see how much has been donated through this tool in about the last two years. Yet look at how much we have been able to do with so little money. Now imagine how much more we could do with a lot more. The time is ripe to do the things we know how to do, and that other organizations are not likely to do, even with all the money they are getting.

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