America’s Supreme Court Has Become Too Powerful

Building of the United States Supreme Court in Washington DC, January 29, 2008
Building of the United States Supreme Court in Washington DC, January 29, 2008 (Tabitha Kaylee Hawk)

Ezra Klein makes an excellent point in Vox: the stakes of Supreme Court nominations in America are too high.

Candidates serve for life — which, given modern life spans and youthful nominees, can now mean forty years of decisions — and no one knows when the next seat will open.

No other democracy in the world allows judges to serve for life. And in no other democracy is the process of appointing high-court judges so broken. Read more

Removing Trump Won’t Fix American Democracy

The South Portico of the White House in Washington DC, July 27, 2012
The South Portico of the White House in Washington DC, July 27, 2012 (Wikimedia Commons/Carlos Delgado)

Dylan Matthews cautions in Vox that ending the Trump presidency will not fix, or even substantially ameliorate, most of the problems plaguing the American political system.

They were mounting for years before he took office — indeed, they made him possible — and they will continue to plague us for years after he leaves.

Matthews shares some of my ideas for fixing American democracy, including abolishing the Electoral College and moving toward proportional representation. He also suggests eliminating midterm elections and introducing public financing for elections.

Don’t tell conservatives, but what we’re talking about is making the United States more like a European democracy.

Are any of these reforms likely to happen? No. But even one or two would make a big difference. Read more

In Defense of Multiparty Democracy

Scale model of the United States Capitol
Scale model of the United States Capitol (Andy Castro)

Scott Lemieux sees two problems with ending the two-party system in the United States:

  1. It would split the Democratic coalition and do nothing to remedy conservative overrepresentation in the House and especially the Senate.
  2. What do you do about presidential elections?

As somebody who believes strongly in multiparty democracy (read my case for constitutional reform), let me respond. Read more

Americans Want Voting Reform, Analysis of Trump’s Attack on Syria

An old-fashioned lever voting machine used in New York City, New York, November 4, 2008
An old-fashioned lever voting machine used in New York City, New York, November 4, 2008 (Caren Litherland)

A Voice Of the People poll has found (PDF) majority support in the United States for introducing ranked-choice voting.

Also known as instant runoff, it would allow Americans to vote for third-party candidates without wasting their votes. Maine is the first state to consider it.

Another way to break up the Democratic-Republican duopoly would be to consolidate congressional districts.

I would support either. The two-party system has polarized Americans. We see in Europe that multiparty democracies are better at managing tensions. Read more

The Rent Is Too High, Partisanship Versus Democracy

Homes in San Francisco, California, April 5, 2010
Homes in San Francisco, California, April 5, 2010 (Jerome Vial)

Will Wilkinson of the libertarian Niskanen Center tells The Washington Post that expanding affordable housing in America’s major cities is the key to reducing inequality.

Wages have barely budged in decades, yet housing costs have soared due to restrictive zoning and land-use policies. Young and working Americans are now unable to save. Homeowners are getting richer.

Kevin D. Williamson, a conservative columnist who was recently hired and then fired by The Atlantic for his right-wing views (more on that here), has similarly argued in National Review that working-class Americans left behind in the Rust Belt need to move to the coasts. He partly blames them for staying put, but recognizes that policy plays a role.

Consider California, where so many of the jobs in the new economy are. Its housing crisis (you can buy a private island or a castle in Europe for the price of a San Francisco apartment) is entirely man-made, “a result of extraordinarily restrictive zoning and environmental codes and epic NIMBYism of a uniquely Californian variety.”

A Republican Party wishing to renew its prospects in California (which it once dominated) or in American cities could — and should — make affordable housing the centerpiece of its agenda for the cities.

More on why Republicans ought to compete in American cities here. Handelsblatt reports that Berlin fears San Francisco-style housing problems. Read more

Government Should Stop Recording Gender Altogether

Visitors at the de Young museum in San Francisco's Golden Gate Park, California, October 16, 2005
Visitors at the de Young museum in San Francisco’s Golden Gate Park, California, October 16, 2005 (Thomas Hawk)

Robin Dembroff has an elegant solution to the “gender war”: stop government recording gender altogether.

“Conservatives insist that the state should record what genitals I have,” Dembroff writes. “Liberals insist the state should instead record my self-identity.” Both assume that the state should be concerned with gender at all.

In so doing, each side — whether tacitly or intentionally — endorses the use of legal gender to reinforce its own preferred gender ideology.

Read more

Americans Should Seriously Consider Constitutional Reform

View of Washington DC with the United States Capitol in the distance, February 17, 2015
View of Washington DC with the United States Capitol in the distance, February 17, 2015 (Matt Popovich)

I completely agree with Timothy B. Lee: Americans should seriously consider constitutional reform.

This weekend’s federal government shutdown — despite Republicans controlling both houses of Congress as well as the presidency — is further proof that the system is broken.

Extreme partisanship, polarization, the politicization of the judiciary, government-by-crisis, legislators’ inability to tackle major issues like entitlement reform and Congress’ unwillingness to execute its proper spending and war-declaration powers all argue for an overhaul of the American political system.

Lee fears it will take an even bigger crisis before Americans accept the need for change.

But he is also optimistic that widening the “Overton window” on this might improve the chances of fixing the problem before a catastrophe occurs. Read more