Topical Controversy A National Initiative Part 2

About the controversy surrounding a national initiative giving the public a vote on matters of government legislation.




Issue: What would the Founding Fathers think of a national initiative?

Pro: The first amendment to the Constitution reads: "Congress shall make no law . . . abridging the . . . right of the people . . . to petition the Government for a redress of grievances." Obviously, the Founding Fathers would applaud a national initiative, particularly in view of radical changes produced by events of the last 200 years which make it more feasible--a once rural society gone urban, shifts of power, a technological revolution that has brought with it sophisticated communications systems. Why shouldn't the voice of the people be heard when opinions can so easily be collected and evaluated by computer? Past amendments have extended voting rights, for example, to blacks and women. The national initiative would carry on that trend to let the voice of the people be heard.

Con: You misinterpret the 1st Amendment, which merely states that the people may petition Congress. It does not say that the people may make laws. In a representative democracy like ours, lawmaking powers are given over to elected officials. Pure democracy, where everyone votes on everything, is impossible. No town meeting hall is large enough to accommodate millions of people. Even with electronic gadgets, the process would be far too unwieldy and time-consuming. Our republic is based on a delicate system of checks and balances, including the concept that while the minority must accept the decisions of the majority, the majority must not be allowed to impose injustices on the minority. An initiative process would destroy that system.

Columnist George F. Will: "The people are not supposed to govern; they are not supposed to decide issues. They are supposed to decide who will decide."

Pro: Only a gross conception of the popular will--a blanket yes to a particular set of candidates and party--emerges from a general election. Voters may not agree with all the views of a candidate they elect. The national initiative process would allow them to express their opinions and impose their will on specific issues. Therefore, it would expand what the Founding Fathers intended.

Constitutional Scholar Arthur s. Miller: "The Constitution has never been interpreted in ways to give sole authority to the views of the Founding Fathers, even if those views are ascertainable; usually, they are not."

Con: Establishing a national initiative process would irreparably tear the delicate fabric of our governmental system.

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