The Swiss Council of States rejects sortition for judges

SwissInfo reports:

Like the National Council, the Council of States has rejected the initiative that would replace the selection of judges by election to their selection by sortition.

Submitted by the entrepreneur Adrian Gasser, the initiative “Appointment of federal judges by sortition” aims to make judges more independent. The candidates have to attain their high position based solely on their qualifications, even if they do not have a political network, according to the text of the initiative.

Selected by a a commission of experts, the judges would then be allotted in a way that the official languages would be fairly represented. They would be able to serve five years beyond the normal age of retirement.

Democratic legitimacy

The senators have implicitly rejected the text. The initiative contradicts the Swiss practice where judges are elected and enjoy democratic legitimacy, a principle that is incompatible with a random process, declared Beat Rieder, a member of the judiciary committee.

The existing system has proven itself. Andrea Caroni, the president of the commission, the idea must be “voting rather than rolling the dice, democracy rather than lottery”. Sortition would in no way guaranty more independence and more fairness, added Thomas Minder.

The choices of the members of the commission of experts would not be neutral either, added Carlo Sommaruga. And it would not necessarily be the best that would be designated due to chance, concurred Karin Keller-Sutter, the Minister of Justice. According to her, the initiative introduces a “foreign element” into our institutions.

A different proposal that was also discussed would have judges elected for life rather than facing periodic re-election. In practice, however, non-re-elections are very rare. This proposal was rejected as well. According to article, Andrea Caroni thinks that “parliament knows how to protect the judiciary institution”.

Lottocracy: Lectures by Alex Guerrero

Prof. Alex Guerrero – a long time sortition advocatehas three lectures on sortition as part of a Coursera course called “Revolutionary Ideas: Borders, Elections, Constitutions, Prisons”. The lectures about sortition are titled:

  1. The Lottocracy
  2. The Promise of Lottocracy
  3. Concerns About Lottocracy

The lectures present Guerrero’s proposal which centers around single-issue-specific allotted bodies but also contain discussions that address questions that are relevant to other forms of sortition-based governance. The total length of the lectures is about 1 hour and they seem to have in mind an audience that is similar in terms of interests and attitude to political science undergraduate students.

Consent of the Governed

A recent conversation with a friend about sortition illuminated for me a stumbling block in making the case for lotteries–at least for advocates in the United States. This friend was adamantly opposed to lotteries. We argued back and forth for some time. In exasperation, I finally asked her what was so special about elections. She said, “Because elections are the mechanisms by which we the people express our wishes.” It was problematic for her that random selection allowed her no say in who would be chosen to be on a given panel.

In the Declaration of Independence, Jefferson wrote of certain unalienable rights (life, liberty, etc.), arguing “… that to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men [sic], deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed …”

By this Jefferson meant that the people give permission to their representatives to rule over them. The disconnect for most of us is that our representatives often give preference to their donors over voters, making a mockery of consent. But to argue that elections provide only the illusion of consent does not answer the concern that a randomly selected policy making body would give people no say in who’s making the rules.

One answer to the concern would be a referendum wherein voters approve the creation of a randomly selected policy-making body. The Michigan redistricting commission—a thirteen-member body selected by lot—was established by a 2018 referendum amending the state’s constitution. The commission has the power to re-draw district lines, and it was created by popular consent—60% of Michigan voters approved the amendment: they removed power from an elected group (the state legislature) and entrusted it to a group selected by lot.
Continue reading