UC Law Constitutional Quarterly


Alan Hirsch


Should American government make greater use of "direct democracy," whereby citizens make laws through plebiscites? Roughly half the states utilize some form of direct democracy, and there is an ongoing debate over whether this form of lawmaking should be introduced in other states and even to the federal government. Many of the arguments against direct democracy are unconvincing, but advocates of direct democracy have not made a sufficiently compelling argument on its behalf. This article explores a new argument for direct democracy - that it is necessary to promote the civic maturation of America's polity. The founders considered a virtuous citizenry crucial for democratic government, since only such a citizenry could be counted on to perform its various functions (jury duty, voting, militia service) effectively. However, the means of inculcating virtue envisioned by the founders have faded from view. This article argues that greater citizen involvement in lawmaking could help fill that void. The article also considers one particular blueprint for introducing direct democracy to every jurisdiction in America (to supplement, not replace, legislation by elected officials) in a way that would promote deliberation and debate. The article concludes that the proposed model has some merit, though it would make sense to experiment with it in some states in order to evaluate whether its nationwide implementation would be desirable.