- 1 Introduction
- 2 Articles of the Constitution
- 2.1 Preamble to the United States Constitution
- 2.2 Article One of the United States Constitution
- 2.3 Article Two of the United States Constitution
- 2.4 Article Three of the United States Constitution
- 2.5 Article Four of the United States Constitution
- 2.6 Article Five of the United States Constitution
- 2.7 Article Six of the United States Constitution
- 2.8 Article Seven of the United States Constitution
- 3 Provisions for amendment
- 4 Amendments
- 5 Impact of Technology on Constitutional Governance
- 6 References
The United States Constitution is the supreme law of the United States of America. The Constitution has a central place in American law and political culture. It is the fundamental law of the United States. It establishes the character and organization of America's sovereign power and the manner of its exercise. It is also the document that contains the nation's guiding rules and principles, the descriptions of the power of the federal government, and the essential rights of the people.
It was adopted on September 17, 1787, by the Constitutional Convention in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, and later ratified by conventions in each state in the name of "the People"; it has since been amended twenty-seven times. The U.S. Constitution is argued by many to be the oldest written national constitution.
Articles of the Constitution
The Constitution consists of a preamble, seven original articles, twenty-seven amendments, and a paragraph certifying its enactment by the constitutional convention.
Preamble to the United States Constitution
The Preamble states:
|“||We the People of the United States, in Order to form a more perfect Union, establish Justice, insure domestic Tranquility, provide for the common defence, promote the general Welfare, and secure the Blessings of Liberty to ourselves and our Posterity, do ordain and establish this Constitution for the United States of America.||”|
The Preamble neither grants any powers nor inhibits any actions; it only explains the rationale behind the Constitution and notes by what authority it is enacted. The preamble is a basic statement of purpose that precedes the constitution. The Preamble, especially the first three words ("We the people"), is one of the most-quoted sections of the Constitution.
Article One of the United States Constitution
Article One establishes the legislative branch of the federal government, the Congress, which includes the House of Representatives and the Senate. The Article establishes the manner of election and qualifications of members of each House. In addition, it provides for free debate in Congress and limits self-serving behavior of congressmen, outlines legislative procedure and indicates the powers of the legislative branch.
There is a debate as to whether the powers listed in Article 1, Section 8 are a list of enumerated powers. These powers may also be interpreted as a list of powers, formerly either executive or judicial in nature, that have been explicitly granted to Congress. This interpretation may be further supported by a broad definition of both the commerce clause and the necessary-and-proper clause of the Constitution. The argument for enumerated powers can be traced back to the 1819 Supreme Court ruling in McCulloch v. Maryland. Finally, it establishes limits on federal and state legislative power.
Article Two of the United States Constitution
Article Two describes the presidency (the executive branch): procedures for the selection of the president, qualifications for office, the oath to be affirmed and the powers and duties of the office. It also provides for the office of Vice President of the United States, and specifies that the Vice President succeeds to the presidency if the President is incapacitated, dies, or resigns, although whether this succession was on an acting or permanent basis was left unclear. In practice, this has always been treated as succession, and the Twenty-fifth Amendment provides explicitly for succession. Article Two also provides for the impeachment and removal from office of civil officers (the President, Vice President, judges, and others).
Article Three of the United States Constitution
Article Three describes the federal court system (the judicial branch), including the United States Supreme Court. The article requires that there be one court called the Supreme Court; Congress, at its discretion, can create lower courts, whose judgments and orders are reviewable by the Supreme Court. Article Three also requires trial by jury in all criminal cases, defines the crime of treason, and charges Congress with providing for a punishment for it.
It also sets the kinds of cases that may be heard by the federal judiciary, which cases the Supreme Court may hear first (called original jurisdiction), and that all other cases heard by the Supreme Court are by appeal.
Article Four of the United States Constitution
Article Four describes the relationship between the states and the Federal government and amongst the states. For instance, it requires states to give "full faith and credit" to the public acts, records and court proceedings of the other states. Congress is permitted to regulate the manner in which proof of such acts, records or proceedings may be admitted. The "privileges and immunities" clause prohibits state governments from discriminating against citizens of other states in favor of resident citizens (e.g., having tougher penalties for residents of Ohio convicted of crimes within Michigan). It also establishes extradition between the states, as well as laying down a legal basis for freedom of movement and travel amongst the states.
Today, this provision is sometimes taken for granted, especially by citizens who live near state borders; but in the days of the Articles of Confederation, crossing state lines was often a much more arduous (and costly) process. Article Four also provides for the creation and admission of new states. The Territorial Clause gives Congress the power to make rules for disposing of federal property and governing non-state territories of the United States.
Finally, the fourth section of Article Four requires the United States to guarantee to each state a republican form of government, and to protect the states from invasion and violence.
Article Five of the United States Constitution
Article Five describes the process necessary to amend the Constitution. It establishes two methods of proposing amendments: by Congress or by a national convention requested by the states. Under the first method, Congress can propose an amendment by a two-thirds vote (of a quorum, not necessarily of the entire body) of the Senate and of the House of Representatives. Under the second method, two-thirds (2/3) of the state legislatures may convene and "apply" to Congress to hold a national convention, whereupon Congress must call such a convention for the purpose of considering amendments. As of 2007, only the first method (proposal by Congress) has been used.
Once proposed — whether submitted by Congress or by a national convention — amendments must then be ratified by three-fourths (3/4) of the states to take effect. Article Five gives Congress the option of requiring ratification by state legislatures or by special conventions assembled in the states. The convention method of ratification has been used only once (to approve the 21st Amendment). Article Five currently places only one limitation on the amending power — that no amendment can deprive a state of its equal representation in the Senate without that state's consent.
Article Six of the United States Constitution
Article Six establishes the Constitution, and the laws and treaties of the United States made in accordance with it, to be the supreme law of the land, and that "the judges in every state shall be bound thereby, any thing in the laws or constitutions of any state notwithstanding." It also validates national debt created under the Articles of Confederation and requires that all legislators, federal officers, and judges take oaths or affirmations to "support" the Constitution. This means that the states' constitutions and laws should not conflict with the laws of the federal constitution — and that in case of a conflict, state judges are legally bound to honor the federal laws and constitution over those of any state.
Article Six also states that "no religious Test shall ever be required as a Qualification to any Office or public Trust under the United States."
Article Seven of the United States Constitution
Article Seven sets forth the requirements for ratification of the Constitution. The Constitution would not take effect until at least nine states had ratified the Constitution in state conventions specially convened for that purpose.
Provisions for amendment
The authors of the Constitution were clearly aware that changes would be necessary from time to time if the Constitution was to endure and cope with the effects of the anticipated growth of the nation. However, they were also conscious that such change should not be easy, lest it permit ill-conceived and hastily passed amendments. Balancing this, they also wanted to ensure that an overly rigid requirement of unanimity would not block action desired by the vast majority of the population. Their solution was to devise a dual process by which the Constitution could be altered.
Unlike most constitutions, amendments to the U.S. constitution are appended to the existing body of the text, rather than being revisions of or insertions into the main articles. There is no provision for expunging from the text obsolete or rescinded provisions.
Aside from the direct process of amending the Constitution, the practical effect of its provisions may be altered by judicial decision and review. The United States is a common law country, rooted in English common law, with courts following the precedents established in prior cases. However, when a Supreme Court decision clarifies the application of a part of the Constitution to existing law, the effect is to establish the meaning of that part for all practical purposes.
Not long after adoption of the Constitution, in the 1803 case of Marbury v. Madison, the Supreme Court established the doctrine of judicial review, which is the power of the Court to examine legislation and other acts of Congress and to decide their constitutionality. The doctrine also embraces the power of the Court to explain the meaning of various sections of the Constitution as they apply to particular cases brought before the Court. Since such cases will reflect changing legal, political, economic, and social conditions, this provides a mechanism, in practice, for adjusting the Constitution without needing to amend its text.
Over the years, a series of Court decisions, on issues ranging from governmental regulation of radio and television to the rights of the accused in criminal cases, has affected a change in the way many Constitutional clauses are interpreted, without amendment to the actual text of the Constitution.
Congressional legislation, passed to implement provisions of the Constitution or to adapt those implementations to changing conditions, also broadens and, in subtle ways, changes the meanings given to the words of the Constitution. Up to a point, the rules and regulations of the many agencies of the federal government have a similar effect. In case of objection, the test in both cases is whether, in the opinion of the courts, such legislation and rules conform with the meanings given to the words of the Constitution.
The Constitution has a total of 27 amendments. The first ten, collectively known as the Bill of Rights, were ratified simultaneously. The following seventeen were ratified separately.
The Bill of Rights (1–10)
The Bill of Rights comprises the first ten amendments to the Constitution. Those amendments were adopted between 1789 and 1791, and all relate to limiting the power of the federal government. They were added in response to criticisms of the Constitution by the state ratification conventions and by prominent individuals such as Thomas Jefferson (who was not a delegate to the Constitutional Convention). These critics argued that without further restraints, the strong central government would become tyrannical. The amendments were proposed by Congress as part of a block of twelve in September 1789. By December 1791 a sufficient number of states had ratified ten of the twelve proposals, and the Bill of Rights became part of the Constitution.
It is commonly understood that the Bill of Rights was not originally intended to apply to the states, though except where amendments refer specifically to the federal government or a branch thereof (as in the First amendment, under which some states in the early years of the nation officially established a religion), there is no such delineation in the text itself. Nevertheless, a general interpretation of inapplicability to the states remained until 1868, when the Fourteenth Amendment was passed, which stated, in part, that:
- No State shall make or enforce any law which shall abridge the privileges or immunities of citizens of the United States; nor shall any State deprive any person of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law; nor deny to any person within its jurisdiction the equal protection of the laws.
The Supreme Court has interpreted this clause to extend most, but not all, parts of the Bill of Rights to the states. Nevertheless, the balance of state and federal power has remained a battle in the Supreme Court.
The amendments that became the Bill of Rights were actually the last ten of the twelve amendments proposed in 1789. The second of the twelve proposed amendments, regarding the compensation of members of Congress, remained unratified until 1992, when the legislatures of enough states finally approved it and, as a result, it became the Twenty-seventh Amendment despite more than two centuries of pendency.
The Congressional Apportionment Amendment (the first of the twelve amendments) — still technically pending before the state legislatures for ratification — pertains to the apportionment of the House of Representatives after each decennial census. The most recent state whose lawmakers are known to have ratified this proposal is Kentucky in 1792, during that commonwealth's first month of statehood.
- First Amendment: addresses the rights of freedom of religion (prohibiting congressional establishment of a religion over another religion and protecting the right to free exercise of religion), freedom of speech, freedom of the press, freedom of assembly, and freedom of petition.
- Second Amendment: declares "a well regulated militia" as "necessary to the security of a free State", and as explanation for prohibiting infringement of "the right of the people to keep and bear arms."
- Third Amendment: prohibits the government from using private homes as quarters for soldiers without the consent of the owners.
- Fourth Amendment: guards against searches, arrests, and seizures of property without a specific warrant or a "probable cause" to believe a crime has been committed. Some rights to privacy have been inferred from this amendment and others by the Supreme Court.
- Fifth Amendment: forbids trial for a major crime except after indictment by a grand jury; prohibits double jeopardy (repeated trials), except in certain very limited circumstances; forbids punishment without due process of law; and provides that an accused person may not be compelled to testify against himself (this is also known as "Taking the Fifth" or "Pleading the Fifth"). This is regarded as the "rights of the accused" amendment. It also prohibits government from taking private property without "just compensation," the basis of eminent domain in the United States.
- Sixth Amendment: guarantees a speedy public trial for criminal offenses. It requires trial by a jury, guarantees the right to legal counsel for the accused, and guarantees that the accused may require witnesses to attend the trial and testify in the presence of the accused. It also guarantees the accused a right to know the charges against him.
- Seventh Amendment: assures trial by jury in civil cases.
- Eighth Amendment: forbids excessive bail or fines, and cruel and unusual punishment.
- Ninth Amendment: declares that the listing of individual rights in the Constitution and Bill of Rights is not meant to be comprehensive; and that the other rights not specifically mentioned are retained elsewhere by the people.
- Tenth Amendment: provides that powers that the Constitution does not delegate to the United States and does not prohibit the states from exercising, are "reserved to the States respectively, or to the people."
Subsequent amendments (11–27)
Amendments to the Constitution subsequent to the Bill of Rights cover many subjects. The majority of the seventeen later amendments stem from continued efforts to expand individual civil or political liberties, while a few are concerned with modifying the basic governmental structure drafted in Philadelphia in 1787. Although the United States Constitution has been amended a total of 27 times, only 26 of the amendments are currently used because the 21st amendment supersedes the 18th.
- Eleventh Amendment (1795): Clarifies judicial power over foreign nationals, and limits ability of citizens to sue states in federal courts and under federal law.
- Twelfth Amendment (1804): Changes the method of presidential elections so that members of the electoral college cast separate ballots for president and vice president.
- Thirteenth Amendment (1865): Abolishes slavery and grants Congress power to enforce abolition.
- Fourteenth Amendment (1868): Defines United States citizenship; prohibits states from abridging citizens' privileges or immunities and rights to due process and the equal protection of the law; repeals the Three-fifths compromise; prohibits repudiation of the federal debt caused by the Civil War.
- Fifteenth Amendment (1870): Forbids the federal government and the states from using a citizen's race, color, or previous status as a slave as a qualification for voting.
- Sixteenth Amendment (1913): Authorizes unapportioned federal taxes on income.
- Seventeenth Amendment (1913): Establishes direct election of senators.
- Eighteenth Amendment (1919): Prohibited the manufacturing, importing, and exporting of alcoholic beverages (Repealed by the Twenty-First Amendment).
- Nineteenth Amendment (1920): Prohibits the federal government and the states from forbidding any citizen to vote due to their sex.
- Twentieth Amendment (1933): Changes details of Congressional and presidential terms and of presidential succession.
- Twenty-first Amendment (1933): Repeals Eighteenth Amendment. Permits states to prohibit the importation of alcoholic beverages.
- Twenty-second Amendment (1951): Limits president to two terms.
- Twenty-third Amendment (1961): Grants presidential electors to the District of Columbia.
- Twenty-fourth Amendment (1964): Prohibits the federal government and the states from requiring the payment of a tax as a qualification for voting for federal officials.
- Twenty-fifth Amendment (1967): Changes details of presidential succession, provides for temporary removal of president, and provides for replacement of the vice president.
- Twenty-sixth Amendment (1971): Prohibits the federal government and the states from forbidding any citizen of age 18 or greater to vote simply because of their age.
- Twenty-seventh Amendment (1992): Limits congressional pay raises.
Impact of Technology on Constitutional Governance
|“||[W]e might describe the problem of cyberspace for constitutional law like this: That it leaves us without constraint enough; that we are, vis-a-vis the laws of nature in this new space, gods; and that the problem with being gods is that we must choose. These choices will be choices of great moment; they will raise contested values; they will be of great constitutional significance; but they will be made by an institution that is, as it were, allergic to such choice. They will be made, by a Court, pretending that in making its decisions, it is following the choice of others — of the people, of "we the people," who in truth have not yet confronted the constitutional choices that must be made.||”|
The seven Articles of the Constitution rest on a few fundamental principles of governance that were created and tested through centuries of struggle in the countries of Europe and in the American colonies. As articulated in the Constitution, these principles have proven robust enough to provide for order and social stability, yet capable of considerable flexibility and responsiveness in a changing society. The fundamental principles of constitutional governance include the concepts of national sovereignty, limited government, democratic representation, federalism with reserved State powers, and separation of powers within the three branches of the national government.
Each of these principles is affected by modern technology. National sovereignty is fundamentally challenged by the effects of extensive international transactions and transborder data flows, and by the necessity of multinational cooperation to cope with environmental problems related to technology. The structure of the relationships between elected representatives and their constituents, the various interest groups, and the other branches of government has been substantively changed by the use of communications and information technologies. Federalism continues to change as effects of technologies continually override jurisdictional boundaries. Cooperation in using databases and communications systems could erode some of the [checks and balances protecting separation of powers.
Sovereignty may be defined as the exclusive and supreme control by a government over its territory and inhabitants. Under the Constitution, sovereignty in the United States is shared between the State and Federal Governments. The powers of the Federal Government are primarily those “necessary and proper" to carry out the functions listed in Article I, section 8. Under the 10th Amendment, the remainder of the power that can be exercised by government is reserved to the States.
Since the mid-1800s, the scale of technology and the scope of its impacts have changed American life; first in transportation systems (e.g., the railroad), then in manufacturing and production (the steel industry, the automobile industry), and in communications systems (telegraph and telephone lines, radio, television).
A concomitant broadening of the role of Federal Government and diminution of the autonomy of State governments in controlling technology has occurred in each instance. Federal power was used first to build and regulate national transportation and communications systems, then to protect health, safety, and employee welfare as manufacturing and commerce have matured. Federal power has been used to recover economic stability during the economic crisis of the 1930s, to set up a complex social security system, to deal with global wars, to put men on the moon.
Just as the development of a national transportation and communications infrastructure in past centuries expanded the Federal Government role in local and State affairs, technology is today expanding the theater of commerce and politics to global dimensions. In the process, it is diminishing the degree to which any nation, including the United States, may act as an autonomous sovereign.
Today, large-scale enterprises and the consequences of industrialization continue to force issues from the local to the national to the international level. Global communications networks are contracting the Federal Government’s power by interlocking national economies, facilitating transnational business, and increasing the necessity of political and economic cooperation among nations. The worldwide nature of today’s technology-oriented problems, such as pollution of air and water, depletion of natural resources, global drug traffic, and intercontinental weaponry, all combine to force cooperative actions in the international arena and surrender of some national sovereignty.
The evolution of the translational corporation over the last half century illustrates the shift of power away from sovereign nations that accompanies global technology. Transnational enterprise is subtly but significantly different from the post-World War II multinational corporation that was or is still essentially based in and identified with one country — i.e., an “American multinational.” New transportation and communications technologies, including high-speed air travel, bulk shipping facilities, flexible manufacturing and automation, distributed data processing and communications capabilities, and high-speed transmission of information, have allowed transnational corporations to shift operations between countries, depending on contingencies such as labor costs, availability of resources, and the political and economic climate of their host nation. These developments have increased the power of the transnational corporation, as economies of scale have allowed the internationalization and vertical integration of their markets.
Deregulation of the international monetary system, rapid movement of investment funds around the world, the trading of stock on foreign exchanges, and international corporate ownership and mergers make transnational businesses even more independent of national policies. In addition, the exchange of television shows, movies, fashions, music, and other forms of entertainment tends to homogenize cultures and consumer demand throughout the world, and could erode national loyalties and dependencies.
These developments parallel the rise of national corporations during the 19th and early 20th centuries, which brought about the expansion of Federal power and the resulting shift from the private power of corporations to the public power of the Federal Government. The internationalization of economic power may now be causing at least a temporary shift back from public power to private power at the international level.
The United States has responded to the development of translational corporate power by trying to extend the exercise of sovereignty outside of its own borders, by, for example, controlling or regulating foreign subsidiaries of U.S. corporations. But, as nationality of corporations has faded, these efforts have proved ineffective. Companies move. The nationalities or loyalties of their top management are not necessarily coincident with where they are headquartered. Some corporations become essentially independent of geographic sites, production facilities, and national charters.
However, in spite of this erosion of sovereignty, national boundaries remain very real economical and political limitations. Private corporations may be caught in intolerable binds between conflicting laws and policies in the different countries in which they do business. The control of databanks and flow of information by, for example, the Council of Europe, can impact adversely on American companies doing business in Europe.
The picture of national sovereignty that emerges in 1987 is thus very different from the picture that was accepted in 1787. The challenges to national sovereignty in the future will be very different from those that were possible in the past, and will be shaped by the need for international response to continuing technological development.
A Democratic Republic
The United States was not the first nation in history to try constitutional government, but it set the pattern for those that followed. It was the first successfully to establish a stable union of what were then sovereign States. The Founders, men of their times, did not envision universal suffrage or equal opportunities for all, yet they gave us the means to move in that direction. As James Madison said, when proposing on June 8, 1789, that the first Congress adopt a Bill of Rights:
|“||. . . the people have an indubitable, unalienable, and indefeasible right to reform or change their Government, whenever it be found adverse or inadequate to the purposes of its institution.||”|
“A more perfect union” was needed in 1787 because of the economic chaos caused by the constant competition between the 13 original States, because of the threat of alliances between States and foreign countries eager to regain control in the New World, and because of the inability of the existing Confederation to finance itself or to control the actions of individual States. A strong union was needed to provide the stability and cooperation necessary for the economic and technological development of the vast resources of the new country. At the same time, the Founders greatly feared a strong national government that might abuse its power. Constitutional history since that day in many ways reflects the effort to maintain a balance between these conflicting goals.
The principle of representation, whereby one individual gave voice to the interests of his constituency, was already well established in 1787, both in England and on this continent. Since then, the United States has steadily broadened the franchise to all adults and enabled people to make more direct choices, by eliminating the indirect election of Senators, creating primaries to select Presidential candidates, enforcing a principle of equal weight for each person’s ballot, and putting decision propositions on State and local ballots. These changes have helped to compensate for the unavoidable dilution of representation as population grew and the number of States increased.
Modern technology has however introduced complexities that have a serious impact on the representative process. The effect of technology on government structure has been most noticeable in the development of a massive Federal bureaucracy to provide the expertise for applying, using, and regulating technologies. The constitutional problems of such a structure have been alleviated in part by the application by the Supreme Court of the due process clause to administrative procedures.
But the growth of a “non-elected branch” of government has inevitably distanced the people from the day-to-day operations of government. The use of independent agencies — the Federal Communications Commission, the Interstate Commerce Commission, the Nuclear Regulatory Commission — to regulate technologies has also placed a serious strain on the boundary between legislative and executive functions. This further dilutes the representation process by diffusing responsibility within the government itself.
But effects of technology on representation are not limited to fostering the growth of a Federal bureaucracy. Technology also has direct effects on the very functions of representation, such as communicating with constituents, formulating policy, legislating, and overseeing executive agencies. The use of computerized mail systems, for example, has allowed the collection and analysis of data on constituent demographics and interests, and thus the segmentation and targeting of audiences to give political messages greater impact and saliency. The information available in computerized databases allows newly arrived Members to be more immediately knowledgeable and effective. Oversight of executive agencies can potentially be greatly enhanced by the use of electronic information and computer models to analyze budgets and evaluate programs, but it also becomes more difficult to evaluate highly technical management decisions about costly information systems operating at the edge of technological advance.
The mass media — newspaper, television, and radio — is a potent influence on the nature of representative democracy. The use of media to present a political image or personally to articulate and frame an issue has been expanded by C-SPAN and by the use of videotape by local stations, but has also been shaped by the demands of the TV news format. The reporting of political news affects attitudes of the public and may distort the process of determining winners and setting agendas. Computerized analyses of voting trends in selected districts aid networks in predicting winners and losers long before the voting is finished, playing on the psychological tendencies of some people to jump on the bandwagon.
Television has also led to what might be called the industry of “image-making,” in which more attention is paid to projecting a carefully designed political image than to explaining controversial policy positions. Critics charge that tracking and surveying public opinion has changed the focus of political news away from the substance of issues and reasoned analysis, and towards attention-grabbing headlines. The ability to inform and influence Congress may also have shifted from party loyalists with cross-cutting interests and motivations, towards organized interest groups — especially those that have the technological resources to mobilize public opinion in their favor — and towards “single-issue politics” under which organized groups of voters are able to exercise an influence greater than their number would suggest.
Does the proliferation of communications between elected representatives and their constituents enhance democracy? The Founding Fathers debated whether elected representatives were to reach decisions based on instructions from the public or were, by deliberation and debate, to arrive at some higher common good. The question of whether a representative should be "instructed" by the sentiments of constituents, or whether he or she should lead popular opinion in a deliberative role continued in the First Congress, where Mr. Clymer, a member of the House of Representatives, said,
|“||If they have a constitutional right to instruct us, it infers that we are bound by those instructions. . . . This is a most dangerous principle, utterly destructive of all ideas of an independent and deliberative body.||”|
Two hundred years later, this question continues to be debated. The use of telecommunications, either to survey public opinion or to send messages or protests to Congress, increases the likelihood of instructed representation. But the complexity of administering a technologically-advanced society, the growth of population, the rise of bureaucracy, and the difficulty of maintaining public interest in political issues far removed from one’s everyday life, tend to counter this trend toward instructed representation. They distance elected officials from the people, thereby allowing greater room for deliberation and independent judgment.
Technology may in the very near future present the Congress with a dramatic choice between these two theories of representation. Technologies, such as the Internet, raise the possibility of direct voting by citizens on some national policy issues. Whether these methods should be used merely to collect in-depth opinions or to register actual binding votes is highly debatable. Advocates of direct electronic democracy claim that people would take more interest in government and become better educated on the issues, and that democracy would be the better for it. Where limited trials have been made, people do show increased interest in policy issues. But these issues have been local, and relatively simple ones. There has never been a national referendum, though one was proposed in 1907.
Those against the idea of direct voting on issues cite the assumed disinterest and inability of the average citizen to understand the complex subjects involved. This in turn could make the voice of educated, socioeconomic elites stronger. Alternatively, it could make for uninformed resolution of important matters of policy. But technology may allow a move to direct democracy in incremental steps, rather than all at once. Other methods of electronic participation, including electronic town meetings, public teleconferencing, and public access to legislative databases are being used in some State and local governments. This kind of access to government could increase greatly in the future as information technologies become more usable and more accessible to more people.
The impact of technology on the principle of representative government thus can cut both ways. The increased complexity of government, in the 21st century and beyond, leads to governmental structures that can dilute its representative character. Yet technology offers compensating advantages that can increase the ability of government to serve the people it represents.
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