A Citizens’ Assembly on climate change is the coward’s way out

Interesting article by Melanie McDonagh in The Spectator on citizens’ assemblies. In response to the demands of Extinction Rebellion, letters inviting 30,000 households across the UK to join a citizens’ assembly on climate change were sent out last week by an alliance of six Commons select committees, chaired by Rachel Reeves. The author (an Irish Catholic) has some alarming claims to make regarding the citizens’ assembly on the repeal of the eighth constitutional amendment (on abortion). It’s a short and interesting piece, so I won’t bother to post extracts.

All the comments posted after the Spectator article are critical of the design of such deliberative assemblies which (IMO) run the danger of bringing the entire sortition movement into disrepute.

Code of Good Practice for allotted mini-publics involved with legislation

This text is meant as a start to discuss the problem, it is not even a draft. My hope is nevertheless that we will reach that point, or even farther.

Introduction: As the use of mini-publics appointed by sortition is spreading around the world, and is reaching the legislative level, a code of good practice is essential. A glossary is also necessary.

We know that not all essential criteria can always be met, but we have to know at least what to aim for and how to refute well-founded criticism and protect a valuable democratic system. Citizens must know that there are essential choices to make that are of significant impact on the outcome and on the reliability of the results.

The first question we have to ask ourselves is what the kind of application it is we have at hand. The participation ladder from Arnstein may be of help. The participation cube from Archon Fung is somewhat more complicated but more up to date. Or we can look for an answer ourselves.

– Is the proposed mini-public of significant influence on legislation? Answers may differ, but we have to make a decision.

The Oregon CIR system has a noticeable influence on legislative decision making (by referendum in this case). Providing information is a very important issue in any form of democratic legislation.

The Washington state panel that sets the wages of elected legislators has no influence on legislation.

The Irish panel is also not of direct significant influence on legislation. It makes non-binding suggestions to the elected body which decides to whether to initiate a referendum or not.

A Jury in the judicial system has no relation to legislative use.

For this reasons I suggest that the first code of good practice is about the lowest legislative level, the Oregon CIR (or alike).  Although the Oregon CIR is difficult to place at the Arnstein ladder I propose to qualify it at level 6 for the sake of comparing it with other initiatives.

Rentoul: “Our politics may be utterly confusing, but it certainly isn’t ‘broken’”

John Rentoul writes in The Independent:

[Nigel Farage’s] leaflets, posted through every door in the country, say: “Politics is broken. Let’s change it for good.” Where have we heard that before? On the R side of politics, that’s where. The Remainers in Change UK left their parties complaining that politics is broken. They too rail against the two-party system, even as the two main parties’ combined share of the vote in European election polls is now 34 per cent.

On the other L side of politics, the left-liberal side, the consensus is also that politics is broken. It was a powerful part of Jeremy Corbyn’s message when he was the future once. For many Corbyn supporters, “politics” is an elite conspiracy against the many that needs to be swept aside by radical forms of democracy.

The same theme animated the Extinction Rebellion protesters when they had a sit-in in Parliament Square. The government has done too little to slow down climate change, they said, so politics has failed. As ever, the problem with our democracy is that it is the wrong kind of democracy. Extinction Rebellion want a citizens’ assembly – a group of non-politicians chosen by lot to discuss the climate emergency. Once upon a time, “the Commons of England in parliament assembled” was a form of citizens’ assembly, but now the protesters want to tear it down and start again.

Of course not, says Rentoul. It’s all just a technical issue.
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Politics as a profession

In a recent debate with Etienne Chouard, among quite a few fallacies and hypocritical talking points, Raphaël Enthoven makes an interesting point regarding the role of training in politics (about 23 minutes into the recording) [my transcription and translation, corrections welcome]:

The fact is that, as Plato argues, politics is a profession.

[ Chourad interjects: “Plato was an aristocrat!” ]

Politics is a profession, even if you ask a democratic such as yourself. Even if you ask yourself. How would you explain the place that you accord in [your book] “Notre Cause Commune” [“Our Common Cause”], in your work, in your blog, always, since 2005, to constituent workshops? The fundamental role that you assign to instruction and to training of citizens? Isn’t it in order to give citizens the means to exercise correctly, properly and competently (if you excuse the adverb) the powers they were temporarily entrusted with?

It is obvious that politics is a profession and requires information. This profession, this information, must be open to all. There should be an equality of opportunity, there should be a wealth of opportunities for democratic practice and learning, including through sortition. Saying, however, that the equality of rights, the equality of competence would justify that each and every person would govern successively, as they did in Athens – a very small city – appointed by sortition and as a part time job, ignores the fact that it is the exercise of power that relieves incompetence, unprofessionalism, and lack of skills.

McKay: Combining mini publics and multi stage popular votes

The section ‘Combining mini publics and multi stage popular votes’ in Spencer McKay’s new paper ‘Building a better referendum’ presents an interesting overview of several systems where the referendum is combined with mini publics.

Pairing a multi-stage popular vote with a mini-public – a process I refer to as an iterated popular vote (IPV) – may aid in bridging the gap between micro-deliberation and macro-participation. The IPV is an attempt at institutional design inspired by the notion of “designed coupling,” which seeks to “find the optimal strength of linkages between different parts of a deliberative system” (Hendriks, 2016, p. 55).

Invitation and call for posters: International conference Direct Democracy v. Populism, Geneva, 17-18 May 2019

On Friday and Saturday, May 17th-18th, 2019, the university of Geneva will hold a conference on the theme of “Direct Democracy v. Populism”.

On Friday evening there will be a public meeting in French, while an academic conference in English will be held on Saturday. The program: PDF.

Registration for the workshop is free but places are limited for catering purposes. If you would like to register please contact, before 2 May 2019, alexander.geisler@unige.ch.

Call for Posters: You currently work (or have worked or are planning to work…) on a project on direct democracy, democratic theory, democratic innovations, sortition or populism? Send us your
poster proposal by 15 April. Accepted authors will be notified by 17 April. Submissions and further information: nenad.stojanovic@unige.ch.

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.