Democracy and Law
Civil society today vitally supplements the traditional legislative and judicial checks on the powerful federal executive branch. As many commentators have observed, individuals, interest groups, and media outlets actively monitor, expose, and impede federal executive misdeeds. But much of government administration now occurs in the states. State executive branches have burgeoned in size and responsibility in recent decades, and state and national leaders advocate further expanding state authority. Underlying such calls is a notion that states are “closer to the people” than the federal government, and thus more attentive and responsive to the public’s needs. Yet commentators seldom question these premises, and there is scant attention to whether and how civil society constrains administration in the states.
This Article identifies and theorizes the role of civil society oversight at the state level. It finds that state agencies frequently lack the civil society check that commentators celebrate at the federal level. State agencies are, on the whole, less transparent than their federal counterparts, less closely followed by watchdog groups, and less tracked by the shrinking state-level media. These insights complicate certain tenets of federalism theory—those that assume a close connection between state governments and their citizens—while strengthening theories concerned about state-level faction. As a practical matter, civil society oversight is one factor that can help explain serious regulatory failures in the states—and more optimistically, success stories. Finally, attending to civil society oversight can highlight reforms available to those who seek a state government that is more visible to and constrained by its people.
Political gerrymandering has been a feature of our republic since the early days of the United States. The majority of states in the U.S. allow state legislators to draw the district lines for legislative elections. Legislator-led redistricting is plagued with legislator conflict of interest, producing elections that are spectacularly uncompetitive and rampant with partisanship. In the process, the interests of voters are in conflict with the party and individual interests of legislators, threatening the legitimacy of our republican form of government. The results are often incumbent entrenchment in “safe seats” and overt partisan-based district manipulation. While not necessarily indicative that the will of the people is being usurped by the ambitions of legislators, one must inevitably ask, are voters choosing their legislators or are legislators choosing their voters? Until recently, the Supreme Court has taken a “hands-off” approach to remedying the negative effects of the partisan gerrymandering that occurs in states employing legislator-led redistricting. In Arizona State Legislature v. Arizona Independent Redistricting Commission, the Supreme Court upheld Arizona voters’ right to transfer redistricting authority from state legislators to an independent commission of citizens via ballot initiative. This Note argues that the delegation theory applied by the Court in the Arizona Independent Redistricting Commission decision, and the authority of voters to be the supreme regulators of the political market, is supported by the Framers’ vision of political competition and accountability as articulated in The Federalist Papers.
Our Government derives its legitimacy from the consent of the governed, generally measured through our elections. When incumbent powers create structures and rules for our politics that entrench the status quo and limit voter control, however, the legitimacy of that consent is tested. For more than fifty years, and in spite of the “political question doctrine,” the Supreme Court has adjudicated challenges to franchise restrictions, gerrymandering, ballot access provisions, and more. In doing so, the Court utilizes doctrinal frameworks that focus on harms to individual rights and not on structural harms to the competitiveness, accountability, and responsiveness of our politics. This myopic view leaves systemic entrenchment and political lockup largely untouched. Scholars have identified these doctrinal deficiencies, but have not suggested an alternative textual basis for judicial intervention in these cases. This Note offers a potential solution in the Guarantee Clause. It argues that the Clause embodies a promise of popular sovereignty in the states. I contend that the Guarantee Clause can and should be revived to unburden the courts from the deficiencies of existing doctrine and provide a textual basis for addressing the problems of political malfunction.
“Sunrise amendments”—constitutional provisions that only take effect after a substantial time delay—could revolutionize American politics. Yet they remain undertheorized and unfamiliar. This Article presents the first comprehensive examination of sunrise lawmaking. It first explores a theoretical puzzle. On the one hand, sunrise lawmaking resuscitates the possibility of using Article V amendments to forge “a more perfect union” by inducing disinterested behavior from legislators. On the other, it exacerbates the “counter-majoritarian difficulty” inherent in all constitutional lawmaking. When one generation passes a law that affects exclusively its successors, it sidesteps the traditional forms of democratic accountability that constrain and legitimate the legislative process. The Article accordingly argues that while sunrise lawmaking holds considerable promise, it should be confined to “democracy-enhancing” reforms that increase future generations’ capacity to govern themselves. With this normative framework in place, the Article turns to the question of how time delays have actually been used in American constitutional history. It identifies six different instances of sunrise lawmaking in the U.S. Constitution. It argues that several of these illustrate how sunrise lawmaking can enhance the democratic character of American government, but at least one offers a cautionary tale of how temporal dislocation in constitutional lawmaking can have pernicious consequences.
Of all the agencies of executive government, those that police—that employ force and engage in surveillance—are the most threatening to the liberties of the American people. Yet, they are the least regulated. Two core requisites of American constitutionalism are democratic accountability and adherence to the rule of law. Democratic accountability ensures that policy choices are vetted in the public arena and have popular support; the rule of law requires that those choices be constitutional as well. Legislative enactments governing policing are few and far between. Although police departments have internal rules, these rules are rarely made public or publicly debated. When it comes to regulating policing, we rely primarily on ex post judicial review, which at best ensures policing practices are constitutional (though it often fails on this score), and does nothing to assure democratic accountability or sound policymaking.
This Article argues that it is fundamentally unacceptable for policing to remain aloof from the ordinary processes of democratic governance. All police practices—such as use of drones or other surveillance equipment; SWAT, Tasers, and other means of force; checkpoint stops, administrative inspections, and other warrantless searches and seizures—should be legislatively authorized, subject to public rulemaking, or adopted and evaluated through some alternative process that permits democratic input. In addition to spelling out the ways in which the ordinary processes of governance can be utilized to regulate policing, this Article fills in substantial gaps in the existing literature by analyzing why this has not been the case in the past, and explaining how, within the existing framework of administrative and constitutional law, courts can motivate change. It also directs attention to the manifold questions that require resolution in order to move policing to a more democratically accountable footing.
Oliver Wendell Holmes's notion of the marketplace of ideas—that the best test of truth is the power of an idea to get itself accepted in the competition of the market— is a central idea in free speech thought. Yet extant social science evidence provides at best mixed support for the metaphor's veracity, and thus for the view that the truth of a proposition has substantial explanatory force in determining which propositions will be accepted and which not. But even if establishing an open marketplace for ideas is unlikely to produce a net gain in human knowledge, it may have other consequences. We illustrate how to empirically study the consequences of establishing or restricting a communicative domain. Our focus is on time, place, and manner restrictions, and we examine two potential natural experiments involving speech buffer zones around polling places and health care facilities providing abortions. Using a regression discontinuity design with geocoded polling information for over 1.3 million voters in two high-density jurisdictions (Hudson County and Manhattan), we provide suggestive evidence that speech restrictions in Hudson County reduced turnout amongst voters in the buffer zone. By failing to cue voters of the election, speech restrictions may have unanticipated costs. And using difference-in-differences and synthetic control matching with state-level data from 1973 to 2011, we illustrate how one might study the impact of speech restrictions around health care facilities. Although the evidence is limited, Massachusetts’s restrictions were accompanied, if anything, by a decrease in the abortion rate. Buffer zones might channel speech toward more persuasive forms, belying the notion that the cure for bad speech is plainly more speech.
In its landmark campaign finance decision Citizens United v. FEC, the Supreme Court found that favoritism or influence over elected officials gained by wealthy campaign contributors does not—in the absence of outright corruption—give rise to the sort of constitutional harm that would justify restrictions on campaign spending. The Court was also insistent that any perceptions of ingratiation would not undermine the electorate’s faith in democracy. This paper challenges the doc- trinal and empirical underpinnings of those assertions. We argue that a loss of faith by the electorate implicates a central constitutional value and is a sufficiently compelling interest to justify campaign finance regulation. We also demonstrate empirically that the Court should not have been so confident that the elecorate's faith in democracy is unaffected either by the appearance of influence or access due to campaign spending or by independent expenditures.
The Supreme Court's decision in Shaw v. Reno established an "analytically distinct" constitutional claim of racial gerrymandering for majority-minority districts drawn predominantly on the basis of race. The case was and continues to be controversial, because the precise nature of the injury caused by such districts has been a persistent source of debate. Shaw districts did not minimize a group's representation, but rather they communicated an "expressive harm" due to signals they sent to the electorate and representatives that the jurisdiction relied too much on race in the construction of a district. Such districts, the Court argued, communicated racial stereotypes that individuals belonging to the same racial group were politically interchangeable, despite their many social and economic differences. This paper tests the "Shaw hypothesis" with recent survey data. We find no patterns in racial attitudes based on the shape and racial composition of a congressional district. We do, however, find substantial and expected gaps among racial groups concerning attitudes toward the practice of majority-minority districting, Section 5 of the Voting Rights Act, and job approval of the respondent's representative.
Dozens of federal statutes authorize federal agencies to give money and power to local police departments and municipalities in order to improve public safety. While these federal programs encourage better coordination of police efforts and make pursuing public safety less financially costly for local communities, they also encourage harmful policing. Of course, policing often interferes with our interests in autonomy, privacy, and property, and those harms are often worthwhile in exchange for security and order. Federal public safety programs, however, are designed, implemented, and evaluated without reference to the nonbudgetary costs of policing. When those costs are high, federal programs can make local policing seem cheaper for communities, but actually make it more costly in its impacts and therefore less efficient.
The coercion costs of policing are overlooked in most assessments of policing policy, not just in federal programs. Ordinarily, however, even when they are not formally recognized, those costs are accounted for, at least to some degree, in local political processes because local government officials experience public ire when the harms of policing become too great. Unfortunately, federal programs also frequently undermine this check on the intrusiveness of local policing. Internalizing the nonbudgetary costs of policing depends on public capacity to monitor harmful police conduct and on city officials’ capacity to influence police conduct. Some federal programs interfere with these conditions by clouding responsibility for law enforcement coercion and by giving money directly to departments rather than to municipalities. Thus, federal programs not only ignore significant costs of the policies they subsidize, they also interfere with the usual local mechanisms for man- aging those costs. Until federal public safety programs are approached with a more complete understanding of policing—one that attends to its full costs and the need for accountability—federal programs will continue to promote policing practices that do more harm than necessary and maybe even more harm than good.
As Congress creates bigger and broader federal programs and administrative agencies, appropriates larger sums on their behalf, and delegates more of its legislative authority to their leaders, it takes on a commensurate responsibility to diligently oversee those agencies. Because time and resources available for congressional oversight are limited, a committee’s decision to conduct a formal oversight hearing implicates a substantial opportunity cost. At the same time, oversight hearings present committees with considerable opportunities for grandstanding and political gamesmanship. The voting public should therefore demand that congressional committees use oversight hearings efficiently, pursuing benefits like agency accountability, transparency, and democratic legitimacy, rather than the committees’ own partisan electoral advantage. However, because congressional committees are complex political institutions and because legitimate oversight benefits can often coincide with partisan political objectives, the distinction is not always easy to discern from the outside. With these nuances in mind, I argue that the outside observer can infer a committee’s underlying motivations and predict a given hearing’s likely benefits by looking for specific patterns in the way the hearing is conducted—i.e., the hearing’s “operational functions.”