5 comments December 3rd, 2005at 03:30pm Posted by Eli
Well, okay, not really. But I’ve been thinking about some of the structural problems in our government as it is currently constituted (or un-Constituted, as the case may be), and I have a couple of outlandish ideas for the judicial and legislative branches. I’m open to any suggestions on the executive branch, but I haven’t yet come up with anything better than “Don’t elect crazy, stupid, and/or evil people.”
My first proposal isn’t really all that outlandish; it simply requires a shift in perspective and the codification of same. I believe one of the major structural problems with our government is that the judiciary, our last line of defense against unconstitutional laws and government actions, has become an appointed shadow legislature instead. Rather than looking for judges who will interpret the Constitution and the law as objectively as possible, both parties look for judges who will represent their own ideology as much as they can get away with. The end result is that court rulings are often predetermined by the ideological makeup of the court, rather than by any serious attempt to interpret the actual intent of the law.
This flaw is enabled by the notion that the President has wide latitude to pick the judges he wants, and the Senate should only reject them if there’s something spectacularly wrong with them. Consequently, the minority party should only use the filibuster in the most extreme cases, like where the nominee is a convicted murderer. If you combine lifetime appointments with the lack of moderation that this attitude engenders, you get a recipe for a lot of ugliness, both on the courts and in the confirmation process.
My recommendation is that we completely change our mindset about the nomination and confirmation process. It should be much, much harder to confirm justices, not easier. Instead of requiring a simple majority, or 60 votes to break a filibuster for extreme cases, make 60 votes the minimum required even for routine approval, or even a two-thirds majority. This would force presidents to nominate consensus picks that the minority party approves of (or even recommends), meaning much more moderate and non-partisan nominees. The end result would be justices and courts which focus solely on the law rather than advancing an agenda, and which would prevent either party from steamrolling over the opposition and the Constitution.
My second proposal is admittedly a little bit out there. The dilemma as I see it is that far too many congressmen (and -women) are far too beholden to corporate contributors, and consequently value corporate interests over those of the people. But on the other hand, I do believe that corporations are deserving of some level of representation – an absolutist, strictly labor/consumer/environmentalist view of utopia would probably be disastrous for business, and that would probably be disastrous for everyone.
So, my suggestion is, carve out a fixed (minority) number of congressional seats for industry, and apportion them – somehow – among the various individual industries (pharma, finance, insurance, energy, etc.) and let them advocate for big business to their heart’s content. The rest of the Congress would then be expected to represent the people, and the people only. And if any of them are caught taking so much as one thin dime from a company or industry lobbyist, they would be sent to prison, and barred from ever holding public office ever again, while the company or industry involved would face extreme sanctions as well (a corporate death penalty might not be practical, but it would have to be something painful enough that no company or industry would dare risk it).
This idea could probably be expanded to include non-corporate interest groups as well, such as the NRA, AARP, and the Sierra Club. Granted, at a certain point it would just become absurd, but no more so than the divided loyalties we have in Congress now. The beauty of it for me is that those starry-eyed idealists who go into government to actually help people would be free to do so without having to sacrifice their principles to stay in office. And those who go into government just to suckle at the corporate teat are free to do so as well, but in such a way that their impact can be contained.
Unlike the first proposal, this one presents all kinds of logistical challenges: How do you apportion the corporate/special interest seats fairly? How do you fill them in such a way that the larger companies or interest groups don’t have unfair sway? How do you prevent the wealthy from using their money to hijack the people’s side of Congress? (I’m thinking either 100% public campaign financing, or else very low contribution limits)
As I said, neither proposal is perfect by a long shot, but I think they might serve as interesting jumping-off points for digging into some of the core problems and their possible solutions. Any feedback is extremely welcome.