Deliberative Democracy in America

A Proposal for a Popular Branch of Government

By (author) Ethan J. Leib

Paperback - £24.95

Publication date:

15 April 2004

Length of book:

168 pages


Penn State University Press

ISBN-13: 9780271026978

We are taught in civics class that the Constitution provides for three basic branches of government: executive, judicial, and legislative. While the President and Congress as elected by popular vote are representative, can they really reflect accurately the will and sentiment of the populace? Or do money and power dominate everyday politics to the detriment of true self-governance? Is there a way to put "We the people" back into government? Ethan Leib thinks there is and offers this blueprint for a fourth branch of government as a way of giving the people a voice of their own.

While drawing on the rich theoretical literature about deliberative democracy, Leib concentrates on designing an institutional scheme for embedding deliberation in the practice of American democratic government. At the heart of his scheme is a process for the adjudication of issues of public policy by assemblies of randomly selected citizens convened to debate and vote on the issues, resulting in the enactment of laws subject both to judicial review and to possible veto by the executive and legislative branches. The "popular" branch would fulfill a purpose similar to the ballot initiative and referendum but avoid the shortcomings associated with those forms of direct democracy. Leib takes special pains to show how this new branch would be integrated with the already existing governmental and political institutions of our society, including administrative agencies and political parties, and would thus complement rather than supplant them.

“Leib makes a bold foray into the realm of Constitutional design that adds sorely needed suggestions for fundamental institutional change into debates about deliberative democracy. With uncommon insight and creativity, he draws upon practical innovations in local deliberation such as citizen juries and deliberative polls to construct a proposal for an entirely new branch of government that would inject direct popular deliberation into law-making. His book is highly profitable and provocative for anyone interested in the deeply democratic reform of American government.”

—Archon Fung, Harvard University