Friday, June 28, 2013

New Converts to Anti-Majoritarianism

Kudos to Emily Bazelon on this week's Political Gabfest for making the key observation that two of this week's exciting news items for liberals -- the Supreme Court's invalidation of California's Proposition 8 and Texas Sen. Wendy Davis' filibuster to kill an anti-abortion bill -- were anti-majoritarian events. That is, the Supreme Court allowed the overturning of an initiative passed by a majority of California voters, and they dismissed those who complained about this overturning as lacking standing to bring the case. And Wendy Davis just stopped (temporarily) a bill that appeared to have the backing of a majority of her state's duly elected representatives, and she was aided by mob rule!

Now, there were certainly good reasons for these events to have happened, and there are plenty of reasons to not subject certain political decisions (such as the right to marry or end a pregnancy) to the whims of voters or legislators. But these events should remind us that, just as no one really cares about federalism, pretty much no one really cares about majoritarianism. We want the policy outcomes we want, and we pretty much don't care which tactics are used to get there.


  1. Perhaps it's more accurate to say that when there is a conflict between majoritarian outomes and individual civil liberties that don't involve externalities (i.e., civil liberties that have little or no substantive impact on our fellow citizens such as gay marriage and voting), liberals place greater value on civil liberties. Conversely, when the conflict is between majoritarian outcomes and individual civil liberties that do involve externalities (i.e., civil liberties that may impact our fellow citizens such as firearm and property regulations), liberals may place greater value on the majoritarian outcome. This makes sense to me, as I see people having a greater interest in the regulation of activities that may physically impact them, than they do in the regulation of activities that they merely think are wrong.

  2. However, the fact that so many people unthinkingly and more consciously couch their substantive preferences in terms of norms and principles regarding federalism and majoritarianism *does* lead one to believe that these principles still do have political power. Hypocrisy is the compliment that vice pays to virtue, and if everyone is so canny as to understand that "no one really cares" about these principles then why does everyone so feverishly try to pay their respects to the principles?