How Democratic Is the American Constitution?
From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
Jump to: navigation, search
How Democratic is the American Constitution? (2001, ISBN 0-300-09218-0, among others) is a book by political scientist Robert A. Dahl that discusses seven "undemocratic" elements of the United States Constitution.
The book defines "democratic" as alignment with the principle of one person, one vote, also known as majority rule. The author praises the Framers of the Constitution as "men of exceptional talent and virtue" (p. 7) who made admirable progress in the creation of their republican government. But Dahl also points out that innovation and change in democratic techniques and ideals continued even after the Constitution was codified, and the American system has not adopted all of those new ideas. He says that the Founders were partially constrained by public opinion, which included maintenance of the sovereignty of the thirteen states. Contents
1 Undemocratic Elements
2 What kind of constitution is best?
2.1 Maintaining stability
2.2 International comparisons
2.3 List of countries steadily democratic since at least 1950 2.4 Protecting democratic rights
2.5 Fairness and consensus
2.6 Problem-solving effectiveness
The primary "undemocratic" aspects of the Constitution that the book sets out are:
Tolerance of slavery - Necessary to ensure the cooperation participation of the Southern states, and only outlawed after the American Civil War
Suffrage - The voting rights of women, African-Americans, and Native Americans were either not protected or specifically abridged. (In 1870, the Fifteenth Amendment prohibited denial of suffrage due to race. In 1920, the Nineteenth Amendment prohibited denial of suffrage due to sex. In 1964, the Twenty-Fourth Amendment prohibited poll taxes, which were then being used in some states to discriminate against African-Americans without explicit racial provisions.)
Election of the president. Article II Section 1 establishes the Electoral College, which gives each state a number of electors proportional to its representation in Congress (which, because each state has two Senators, is not proportional to population). Electors were to be appointed by whatever method the state legislatures chose, and would presumably use their own judgment in choosing a President. In modern times, most states use a "winner take all" system to allocate the votes of their electors based on the outcome of the popular vote within that state, but the allocation of votes among the states is unchanged.
Representation in the Senate. Each state gets two senators, regardless of population. This is known as the Connecticut Compromise, and was incorporated into the Constitution to secure the continued participation of the smaller states. (for more information see Sizing Up the Senate by Frances Lee and Bruce Oppenheimer)
Election of senators. Article I, Section 3 declared that senators were to be appointed directly by state legislatures. In 1913, the Seventeenth Amendment changed the system so that Senators were popularly elected in staggered state-wide races.
Judicial power. In the United States, judge(s) have the power to rule unconstitutional any law or regulation, even if duly approved by the legislature and signed by the president. Judges are appointed (not elected) for life with a high threshold for removal, which makes them independent. Dahl feels that the judiciary has used its rather unconstrained authority to essentially make national policy through judicial fiat.
Limitations on Congressional power. As interpreted by the judiciary, the Constitution reserves sovereignty in many domains of regulation to the states. The powers of Congress are limited to a specific list. From 1895 until the Sixteenth Amendment was ratified in 1913, court...
Please join StudyMode to read the full document