The Justice Initiative: Appointing the Federal Judges by Sortition

Collection of signatures for the Justice Initiative has been going on over the last month. By autumn 2019, the initiative must be signed by 100,000 citizens for it to qualify for the Swiss ballot. Although social networks are playing an increasingly important role in politics, the collectors of signatures on the street need convincing arguments.

The website is in French, German, Italian and Roman. I translated the German text using automatic translation and made some minor corrections. For those who can read German, here is the original text:

Bundesrichterinnen und Bundesrichter sollen Entscheide frei von Interessenkonflikten und politischen Einflüssen fällen können. Das ist heute nicht möglich.

Um von der Bundesversammlung als Bundesrichterin oder Bundesrichter gewählt zu werden, muss eine Person heute de facto einer politischen Partei angehören und über gute Beziehungen zu Entscheidungsträgern verfügen.

Dieses Beziehungsgeflecht besteht auch nach der Wahl in das Bundesgericht und kann die Entscheide der Richterinnen und Richter beeinflussen. Zudem kann mit der Drohung der Abwahl, Druck auf Richterinnen und Richter ausgeübt werden.

Deshalb sollen Juristinnen und Juristen alleine aufgrund ihrer Fähigkeiten – auch ohne Beziehungsnetz in die Politik und Verwaltung hinein – Bundesrichterin und Bundesrichter werden können. Und als solche sollten sie auch bei unbequemen Entscheiden keine Nachteile zu befürchten haben und nicht abgewählt werden können.

Diese Ziele werden mit der eidgenössischen Volksinitiative «Bestimmung der Bundesrichterinnen und Bundesrichter im Losverfahren» erreicht.

Richterkandidatinnen und -kandidaten dürfen einzig aufgrund ihrer fachlichen und persönlichen Qualifikation am Losverfahren teilnehmen. Das Losverfahren garantiert eine faire Besetzung des Bundesgerichts, ohne Rücksicht auf allfällige Parteibücher. Die im Losverfahren bestimmten Bundesrichterinnen und Bundesrichter, bleiben bis zur Pensionierung im Amt.

Translation:

Federal judges should be able to make decisions free from conflicts of interest and political influences. That is not possible today. To be elected by the Federal Assembly as a federal judge or a federal judge, a person today must de facto belong to a political party and have good relations with decision-makers. This network of relationships also exists after the election to the Federal Supreme Court and can influence the decisions of the judges. In addition, with the threat of dismissal, pressure can be exercised on judges. That is why lawyers should be able to become federal judges on their own merits – without a network of relationships in politics and administration. And as such, they should not have to worry about consequences of uncomfortable decisions and about being voted out. These goals are achieved with the federal popular initiative “Appointing the Federal Judges by Sortition”. Judge candidates may participate in the process solely on the basis of their professional and personal qualifications. The sortition system guarantees a fair composition of the Federal Court, regardless of any party membership. The federal judges, who are determined by lot, remain in office until retirement.

This might be a very important step for the use of sortition in present society.  And not limited to the appointment of judges. Let’s hope they get the 100,000 signatures in time.

Fishkin: Random Assemblies for Lawmaking? Prospects and Limits

James Fishkin’s contribution to the September 2017 workshop “Legislature by Lot” was titled “Random Assemblies for Lawmaking? Prospects and Limits”:

Abstract
A randomly selected microcosm of the people can usefully play an official role in the lawmaking process. However, there are serious issues to be confronted if such a random sample were to take on the role of a full-scale, full-time second chamber. Some skeptical considerations are detailed. There are also advantages to short convenings of such a sample to take on some of the roles of a second chamber. This article provides a response to the skeptical considerations. Precedents from ancient Athens show how such short-term convenings of a deliberating microcosm can be positioned before, during, or after other elements of the lawmaking process. The article draws on experience from Deliberative Polling to show how this is both practical and productive for the lawmaking process.

Keywords
Athens, corruption, Deliberative Polling, elections, minipublics, nomothetai, representative democracy, sortition

In arguing for short term “Delibertive Polls”, Fishkin offers three problems with long-term allotted chambers: (1) lack of technical expertise, (2) potential for corruption, and (3) not maintaining what he calls “the conditions for deliberation”.
Continue reading

A Niftier Neologism: “Citocracy”

I’ve just come up with a better name for a system of government that employs sortition: “Citocracy.” I defend it in my latest comment in my thread, “Demiocracy—a Nifty Neologism,” at https://equalitybylot.com/2018/10/17/demiocracy-a-nifty-neologism/#comment-24489. Here is its first 20%:

In response to the criticism above, I withdraw “demi-ocracy” and “randemocracy.” In their place I submit “CITOCRACY,” my best and final offer. It means “Power to, and in, the Citizens.” This meaning is broadly the same as democracy’s meaning, “Power to (and in) the People.”

But it’s not a mere redundancy, because It implies that that power will be exercised significantly by persons who have not been elected—i.e., by ordinary citizens—and not, or not only, by elected intermediary professional politicians. And also not exercised by such unavoidably accompanying afflictions of mass democracy as political parties, propagandists, pressure groups, the press (aka the middleman media), and pelf-possessors, whose character and interest notably differ from citizens’—for the worse. 

I hereby dub our current system “POLOCRACY”—“power to and in the politicians (“pols” and the “political class”).” It is a neatly orthogonal term that covers the remainder of “the people”—i.e., elected citizens and their minions.

(Perhaps, for clarity until familiarity has been achieved, the terms might be hyphenated, thus: “cit-ocracy” and “pol-ocracy.”)

“Citocracy” is ordinary English and doesn’t suggest anything off-puttingly foreign, archaic, esoteric, academic, or radical. (And yet it has a satisfying hint of radicalism in its allusion to the French Revolution’s battle-cry appeal to “citoyens!”) So, persons hearing the word might be willing to hear more about it. At which point a proponent could say:

  1. Citocracy implies a system in which “citizens panels” (advisory) and/or “citizens juries” (proposal-evaluators and/or legislator-electors) and/or “citizens assemblies” (legislators) would play a major role. (The “cit” prefix in “citocracy” builds naturally upon those three commonly used terms.)
  2. Citocracy implies the elimination or curtailment of the six above-listed Pernicious P’s (which a proponent could describe and denigrate), starting with professional party-system politicians, who reign under “polocracy”—a system that our Founders didn’t intend. They had in mind instead a system of amateur citizen legislators—though “notables,” to be sure—i.e., a citocracy.

From academic to pragmatic

Reading coverage of the UK’s Extinction Rebellion movement this week – which is beginning a campaign of civil disobedience in an attempt to pressure the British government into far more radical action to combat greenhouse gas emissions – I was intrigued to come across this:

The group also calls for the creation of a national Citizens’ Assembly to oversee “the changes necessary for creating a democracy fit for purpose”.

I can tell this will be a fun one for Equality by Lotters to contemplate.

For my own part, I got belted on the arms and peppered sprayed by Danish police in Copenhagen in 2009 in an attempt to chronicle what it felt like to take part in a civil disobedience action linked to global climate change negotiations. I did it deliberately to better understand the experience of civil disobedience – an approach inspired by the late, legendary US writer George Plimpton.

He called it participatory journalism. I experienced it as pretty stressful.
Continue reading

Southall: A proposal for using sortition in South Africa

A 2017 paper by Roger Southall in Politikon, the South African Journal of Political Studies, proposes applying sortition in South Africa.

The Case for Sortition: Tackling the Limitations of Democracy in South Africa

Roger Southall, University of Witwatersrand, Johannesburg, South Africa and the Department of Political Studies, University of Cape Town, Cape Town, South Africa

Abstract

This article considers how the erosion of democracy in South Africa since 1994 might be addressed through sortition, the random selection of citizens to perform public tasks. Drawing upon the recent essay outlining the case Against Elections by David Van Reybrouck [(2016). Against Elections: The Case for Democracy. London: Bodley Head], which paints liberal democracy as facilitating rule by elites, it argues for the appointment of sortition panels to consider reform of the electoral system. Sortition in South Africa could draw upon streams of participatory democracy experienced during the struggle against apartheid, and lead towards a more deliberative democracy.

Dan Hind: The Cooperative State

Dan Hind proposes using sortition to achieve a “cooperative state”.

Rather refreshingly Hind rejects the “modernization” argument:

I do not propose far-reaching constitutional change in Britain or the United States because the current arrangements are irrational or anachronistic. On the contrary, these arrangements are, for the most part, rational and frighteningly up-to-date.

Hind’s proposal is an elections-sortition hybrid:

The idea is not to do away with elections. Some offices require technical abilities or experience and election does not seem like a terrible way of filling them, even if at times it is hard to imagine a worse person for an elected office than the person holding it. But it does not follow that public office should be monopolised by those who, for whatever reason, manage to win an election. Indeed, if representation is to retain its authority, it will have to be supplemented by more properly democratic institutional forms.

Hind seems to fall into an obvious fallacy: the simple point that not every position should be filled by lot does very little to advance the argument that some positions should be filled by election.

That said, Hind does propose to invest allotted bodies with some real powers of oversight:
Continue reading

Upcoming event: Selina Thompson in conversation about sortition with Maddy Costa

An upcoming event in the Arnolfini arts house in Bristol.

Sortition: Selina Thompson in conversation with Maddy Costa
Saturday 03 November 2018, 18:30 to 20:00

Following a year of research and exploration, this is your chance to hear from artist Selina Thompson about the thoughts and ideas behind the development of the project Sortition.

The research included the hosting of a week-long Sortition boot camp with twelve young people from across the country here at Arnolfini, and an investigation into what Sortition might look like in both a gallery and theatrical context.

At this new event which is part of 14-18 NOW and its series Represent reflecting on the centenary of the first women gaining the right to vote, Selina Thompson takes some time with critical thinker Maddy Costa to reflect together on the future of democracy, and what the role of artists and the participatory contexts that they create might play in this.