Since before the foundation of our nation, arguments for and against majority rule resulting from a pure democracy have been strongly debated. Ultimately, our nation rejected the argument that every …
Since before the foundation of our nation, arguments for and against majority rule resulting from a pure democracy have been strongly debated. Ultimately, our nation rejected the argument that every decision should be made by the majority, and we adopted a constitutional, representative republic. This system of government certainly does not always represent the majority or minority, but instead is designed to act in the best interests of all people.
In considering the dangers of allowing the majority to rule without protections for the minority, James Madison wrote Federalist No. 10, which states in part, “By a faction I understand a number of citizens, whether amounting to a majority or minority of the whole, who are united and actuated by some common impulse of passion, or of interest, adverse to the rights of other citizens, or to the permanent and aggregate interests of the community.” He continued, “[a] republic, by which I mean a government in which the scheme of representation takes place, opens a different prospect, and promises the cure for which we are seeking.”
I have seen a concerning number of comments, letters, and even articles, arguing in favor of letting a majority make decisions that would adversely affect the rights and interests of minority groups. I caution against this proposition. De Tocqueville referred to this as the tyranny of the majority.
Not only is the idea that a majority should be able to enforce its will on a minority directly contrary to the foundational ideals of our nation, this type of thinking is also contrary to the constitutional principles of equal protection under the law for which many have fought, bled, and died.
The Fourteenth Amendment states in part, “[n]o 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 equal protection of laws does not merely serve a majority or when otherwise convenient.
The proposition by some to reject the rights of a few because it interferes with the sensibilities of the majority is either based on a misunderstanding of the constitutional rights protected for all citizens or an outright rejection of those protections when those protections do not serve the self-proclaimed majority’s interests.
For those who desire majority rule, I would remind them that majorities do have a say in the functions of government. They are primarily responsible for electing officials who put in place laws, rules, committees, boards, and a large number of other governmental functions. The responsibility to ensure that the right elected officials are in place is dependent on the electorate informing themselves of the important issues and what the candidates believe. And while the majority does have the primary say in who is in the position to create and enact law, once the laws are in place, they must be equally and fairly applied.
It is likely that we will all, at one time in our lives, be a member of some minority. That might be political, racial, religious, economic, or any other number of circumstances. We all live unique, distinct, and changing lives, and when we are in a minority, we will certainly want our rights to be protected.
Fortunately for all citizens, we do not have to cower to the dictates of a majority vote. We are guaranteed the rights to equal protection under the law. We are allowed to petition our government and the courts for redress when others threaten to, or actively pursue, the limitation of our sacred and protected rights.
Our responsibility is to protect the rights of everyone, not just those with whom we agree.