The elected legislator’s burden

In his recent article “Lot and Democratic Representation”, Alex Zakaras proposes introducing a sortition-based element into the US government. His proposal is similar to the one made by Anthony Barnett and Peter Carty in the UK (The Athenian Option). The new body proposed, with its veto power over legislation and term of service of one year, would wield moderate power – it lies somewhere on the spectrum between a full-fledged parliamentary body, as proposed by Cellenbach and Phillips, and the weak ad-hoc policy juries of James Fishkin and Ethan Leib.

Zakaras emphasizes the democratic advantages of sortition over elections – primarily equality in the representation of interests. He challenges opponents of sortition (quoting Robert Paul Wolff) to reflect on what their opposition “reveals about their real attitude toward democracy”. It is natural, then, to turn the tables and challenge Zakaras as to what his reluctance to grant the allotted body full parliamentary powers – to set its own agenda, initiate legislation and draft its own legislative proposals – reveals about his own attitude toward democracy.

In one brief passage Zakaras explains that the reason for “not burdening” the allotted body with the tasks of initiating and writing legislation is that its members would lack the expertise of career politicians and “would have virtually no experience assessing the likely consequences of different policy alternatives.”

Quite a few unexamined – and, in fact, unlikely – assumptions are packed into this brief argument. Each of the several counter-arguments below is, by itself, in my mind, enough to counter the reasoning given, or, at least, grounds for a thorough examination of its logic.

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