Should Congress Be Run Like Jury Duty?

In the last blog here you read about the prospect of requiring political officials to recuse themselves from legislation in which there may be a conflict of interest. Currently only judges recuse themselves from cases but my ultimate proposal was to require congressmen to do the same thing. Though this would be one mechanism to eliminate a fair amount of corruption in the legislative (and executive) branches of state and federal government, it is not necessarily the best way.

Recently there has been a perception that Congress is largely ineffective and incapable of passing critical and needed legislation or federal action. Though this is a problem endemic in a two party system, it is nothing new. The checks and balances of the federal system outlined in the Constitution coupled with two dominant parties produces an impasse that generally cannot be overcome. Some people believe that the dominant system requires compromise in order to accomplish anything. However, decades of compromise have left the U.S. with ineffectual and unnecessary agencies and institutions, most of which have arisen from the legislation Congress has managed to pass. The recent showdown over the budget accentuates this point. Furthermore, Congress has the responsibility to confirm federal judges and federal department heads. When they neglect or shun this responsibility, the managerial structure of the U.S. is assaulted and agencies and departments are left with leadership vacuums that make them all the more ineffectual. In the end these issues are the byproduct of partisan politics. Rather than a body of individuals who meet to discuss and pass legislation, the U.S. Congress is now an arena where the party bosses dictate what decisions their people can make and what legislation will be proposed or passed. This highly undemocratic means of running a nation is the outcome of the status quo and neither the republicans nor the democrats are willing to change it. Consequently, we know that this system of divided government is flawed and stands little chance of becoming effective short of a transition to a single party system. Of course, that prospect would represent the wishes, needs, and desires of an even smaller percentage of the population that the current regime. So, what can be done to fix this?

An elected legislature has proven to be largely incapable of meeting the needs of society. Partisan bickering prevents meaningful immediate action while frequent elections prevent coherent long term plans from materializing or being maintained at the state and national levels. Transition to a non-elected legislature holds a great deal of promise. This is not a proposal to have legislators appointed by any political body or figure. Rather, the idea here is to make service in a legislative body similar to jury duty. Anybody who has filed their taxes would be entered into a pool of people who could be selected for a term on a state or federal legislature. For example, in the state of Montana, a 90 day legislative session is held every two years. These positions are currently staffed through elections. At present, very little has been accomplished by the MT state legislature because of partisan politics. Making legislative service a civic duty staffed by random selection offers the opportunity to remove organized partisan politics from the process. The people who have found themselves with the responsibility would have no ties or obligations to an organized party in the legislature and would hopefully be able to consider legislation based on their own experience and opinion, not on the dictates of party bosses. A recent study (which I cannot find online for the life of me) studied this prospect in detail and found that a legislature by lottery would eliminate a significant amount of deadlock and corruption prolific in contemporary American politics.

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