Notes From Babel

Initiatives and Direct Democracy vs. California’s Defunct Representative Republic

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The wife and me at the Regan Library

My wife and I attended the Fourth Annual Federalist Society Western Conference yesterday at the Reagan Library in Simi Valley.

The topic was State Judiciaries and the Popular Will:  What Deference Do Judges Owe the People? I found the most interesting panel to be the one discussing whether judges should extend less deference to initiative amendments—i.e., those adopted by the direct initiative process rather than through the republican (small “r”) legislature.  One speaker, Jon Weisenberg, pointed out that initiatives had created a contradictory, cobbled-together set of constitutional amendments that at once direct our representatives to spend, spend, spend on things like rail and prisons, and yet not increase taxes.  This, Weisenberg argued, has rendered our state dysfunctional.  Kenneth Starr, Eugene Volokh, and Vikram Amar all seemed to suggest, however, that even if this were so, there seems to be no feasible way to eliminate or diminish this important right.

Though there was not enough Q&A time, I had this question:  It is likely true that voter initiatives are clumsy and counter-productive.  But perhaps the lesson is not directed at the people to use greater caution and discernment in proposing and passing initiatives.  Instead, perhaps the lesson is directed at our growingly unresponsive, aristocratic legislators who, concerned more and more about their own pet projects (here’s a recent and particularly noxious one), have left their constituents no choice but to take legislating into their own hands.

To this end, I wonder if there are any studies comparing Californians’ growing discontent with their legislature with the number of contemplated or attempted initiative measures?

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Written by Tim Kowal

January 31, 2010 at 11:20 am

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