Our Undemocratic Constitution

Last week I read Levinson’s Our Undemocratic Constitution, a rather compelling argument that, for various reasons, our Constitution has undemocratic procedures codified in it, and therefore we should have a new constitutional convention. I agree with Levinson’s assessment, but don’t see his call for a new constitutional convention happening anytime soon. As Levinson notes, our constitution is too venerated.

However, some interesting developments that could alleviate some of the undemocratic aspects of the Constitution:

In his afterword to the paperback edition (if I’m recalling right), Levinson argues that if the majority of states (especially large states) all passed legislation that their electors to the Electoral College were determined by the winner of the national vote, it would de facto make the Electoral College obsolete. (Levinson argues, rightly I think, that the Electoral College is one of the major blemishes of the Constitution.) Iowa’s actually considering a bill to do just that. I haven’t looked into if other states are considering this, and I found this out a week ago (so the bill could be dead, I don’t know — haven’t looked into it). But interesting development.

Also of interest: Russ Feingold has introduced a proposed amendment to make it mandatory for states to hold special elections if a Senate seat is vacated. While Levinson argues that the Senate isn’t very democratic (why do the people of Wyoming get more representation per capita than the people of California?), this seems to be a small step in the right direction. Why should a governor like Blaggo (or any governor) get to appoint a Senator instead of having her elected?

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5 Responses to Our Undemocratic Constitution

  1. John says:

    I’ve not read Levinson’s book so I’m curious as to whether he addresses the fact that the Constitution was written to create a republic rather than a democracy. Based on your post, my knee jerk response wants to be: “Yeah, of course the Constitution has undemocratic procedures codified in it: that’s why we’re a Republic rather than a Democracy.”

    This is, of course, not an attack on you. Not having read the book, I’m curious as to why this seems to be news to Levinson or if he does in fact directly addresses this issue in the book.

  2. Michael says:

    He addresses the democracy/republic issue in his afterward to the paperback edition, where he laments that he didn’t address it in the original book. He doesn’t critique that Constitution as a bad document for when it was written; in fact, he seems to think that the Constitution was great for that time and that the “Founding Fathers” wrote an excellent document for their needs. But if we’re to move toward more democracy, he argues that the Constitution no longer works for a variety of reasons (hard to amend, unequal representation, too much presidential power, among other reasons).

  3. Joel S. Hirschhorn says:

    Few know about the Article V convention provision in the Constitution and how Congress has refused to obey the Constitution; the one and only requirement for a convention has long been satisfied, with over 700 applications from all 50 states; learn all the facts at http://www.foavc.org and join Friends of the Article V Convention, the only national, nonpartisan group working to get the first convention.

  4. Joseph says:

    Robert Dahl’s book “How Democratic is the American Constitution” takes on a similar theme in a much more compact way (Dahl’s book is earlier) and addresses John’s point. We have done quite a few things that have led us away from the republican ideal and more toward the democratic realm–direct election of senators, enfranchising women and African American males, etc. In light of these trends, it seems we are more convinced of a becoming a democratic society and less republican. Dahl, however, is less optimistic than Levinson that we can actually do something to change the constitution.

  5. John says:

    Thanks for the clarifications everyone.

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