A substantial number of people say direct democracy does not work. They point to California as one example. It is the other way around; California direct democracy is not working very well because it is almost “fake direct democracy”.
In California and a few other American states, the people have the power to pass certain new laws, but the courts still have more power than the people. Direct democracy is impossible that way.
For example, the people of California passed Proposition 8.
This is what happened; many people in California opposed same sex marriage in the early 2000s. California law allows for citizen’s initiatives and referendums. They collected the required number of signatures, near one million, to have all the people of California vote on their proposition. The proposition wanted to have same sex marriage declared illegal.
The people voted and the proposition won; the people decided, by approximately 52% against 48%, that same-sex marriage would be illegal in California.
The people who lost took the proposition to the courts. This is possible because in California the people do not have the last word. This is so because California is a representative democracy, not a real direct democracy, never mind the talk about “California’s direct democracy”. California has some elements of direct democracy, but not enough of them, not the crucial one.
After several legal battles in California’s courts, the issue landed in the Supreme Court of the United States.
The Supreme Court decided that Proposition 8 was not constitutional, never mind what California votes decided, some sovereignty!
There you have it; 9 justices elected by the politicians, not even elected by the people, decided what the people of California formally decided does not really matter.
The 9 Supreme Court judges declared proposition 8 “unconstitutional” and that was it, Proposition 8 is dead.
Even if 99% of the people of California had voted in favour of Proposition 8, the judges would have it thrown out. Where is “government of the people, for the people by the people” in that?, nowhere.
At the US national level, the situation is even worse; there is no opportunity at all for the people to do anything even close to what the people of California tried to do, which is not much.
Let us note that same sex partnerships, but not marriage, were legal in California since 1999; the people of California did not want same sex unions to be marriage, they did not oppose the law recognizing homosexual unions. They wanted the word marriage reserved for heterosexual unions.
Tomorrow I will look at how Switzerland is dealing with the same issue, using the tools of direct democracy, in a much sounder way.
One huge advantage the Swiss have is that they have direct democracy at all levels of government; at the federal level, at the state (canton) level, and at the municipal level. Because of that, they have developed a culture of direct democracy. It was not always like that; in another post I will write about how Switzerland was able to evolve and show the way to others.
Contrary to the Swiss, the people of California have very limited direct democracy, and none at the national level. This means California voters have no say in the most important laws and decisions that affect them. This makes it more difficult for voters to develop their sense of being the executive decision makers.
The Swiss, again, show that direct democracy provides for better governance.