By Rob Natelson**
If you are exposed to enough politics, sooner or later you’ll hear the old saw that the U.S. is “a republic and not a democracy.” Along with that saying goes the following claim: Allowing voter initiatives and referenda is unconstitutional: If a state lets voters enact laws or veto tax hikes, the state is too democratic to meet the Constitution’s mandate that it have a “republican form of government.”
A new Independence Institute Issue Paper, which I authored, examines those assertions in detail. The Paper shows that both are essentially myths.
The nation’s best-known measure requiring voter approval of most tax hikes is Colorado’s Taxpayer Bill of Rights (TABOR), adopted by the voters in 1992. This Issue Paper is published in response to a legal attack on TABOR: A group of government apologists has sued in federal court claiming that by limiting legislative control over fiscal measures, Colorado has violated the U.S. Constitution.
In a nutshell, the new Issue Paper finds:
* The American Founders did not firmly distinguish between a “republic” and a “democracy.” Some used the two words as if they were synonymous. Some adopted the view of Montesquieu that there were two kinds of republics: (1) Those controlled by a few (aristocracies) and (2) those controlled by the many (democracies).
* Dictionaries of the time defined “republic” as merely a popular government, as opposed to a monarchy. One encyclopedia-type dictionary included an article tracking Montesquieu’s definitions. Continue reading
IP-12-2012 (October 2012) Author: Robert G. Natelson
PDF of full Issue Paper
Introduction: Opponents of popular participation in government have long argued that when a state constitution or legislature permits the people to vote on revenue measures and other laws, this puts the state out of compliance with the U.S. Constitution’s Guarantee Clause: the requirement at all states have a “Republican Form of Government.” Traditionally, their argument has been that the Constitution draws a sharp distinction between a republic and a democracy, and that citizen initiatives and referenda are too democratic to be republican. Recently, a group of plaintiffs sued in federal court, challenging Colorado’s Taxpayer Bill of Rights (TABOR) relying on a variation of this theory.
In this Issue Paper, Professor Rob Natelson, Senior Fellow in Constitutional Jurisprudence and the author of the most important scholarly article on the Guarantee Clause, sets the record straight. Marshaling evidence from Founding-Era sources and from the words of the Founders themselves, he shows that the phrase “Republican Form of Government” permits citizen lawmaking—and that, in fact, most of the governments on the Founders’ list of republics included far more citizen lawmaking than is permitted in Colorado or any other American state. He further shows that the principal purpose of the Guarantee Clause was not to restrict popular government, but to protect popular government by forestalling monarchy.