While the framers of the United States Constitution organized the country’s foundational document around the idea of political equality, it does not provide for a representative democracy, Harvard Law Professor Lawrence Lessig told attendees at a recent New Jersey Institute for Continuing Legal Education seminar titled “In Search of a More Perfect Union: The Constitution, Elections and Leadership in the 21st Century.”
“The government doesn’t represent us,” Lessig said.
Lessig discussed numerous ways institutions (such as the Senate and the Electoral College) and processes (such as gerrymandering, special interests, and big money in campaign funding) are flawed and create exceptions to the principle of political equality.
“[James] Madison was furious that his pure design of the Constitution was muddied with an unequal Senate,” Lessig said. Instead of representing the people, the Senate represented the states equally.
“The proper foundation was destroyed by substituting equality in place of proportional representation,” Founding Father Madison wrote.
“Senatorial inequality has spread throughout much of our political system,” Lessig said.
The Electoral College is an example of political inequality because it is a “winner take all” system and swing states have the power to pick the president.
Swing states, which are older and whiter, are not representative of America, he added.
“If you don’t happen to live in a swing state, or if you happen to be a minority party member in a swing state, then your vote just doesn’t matter.”
Political reform is imperative, Lessig said, because “our government cannot address issues sensibly,” regardless of whether one is on the right or left.
“We’ve allowed these inequalities to seep into a representative democracy so we are not being represented,” he added.
Lessig said future generations will reap the consequences of the current generation’s failure to fix democracy.
“We need a sensible government in the 21st century. That’s not optional, because if we don’t have a government that can govern, we will fail as a nation.”