The Dangers of Unchecked Majority

Yesterday, an excellent, up-and-coming online magazine called The Louisville Lip published an essay of mine called We the Tyrants. It addresses the importance of checks against unrestrained majoritarianism like the judicial branch and the U.S. Constitution, and considers how mob rule has caused problems throughout American history. A brief excerpt:

Hypothetical examples of majoritarian tyranny don’t have to be racial to illustrate their constitutional indefensibility. Perhaps in the near future, as conservative paranoia predicts, a state government will become dominated by a ruthless Muslim majority (no doubt personally imported on secret airplanes by Barack Obama) who are bent on installing Shariah law. Should a subsequent constitutional amendment to prohibit Christians from receiving marriage licenses, no matter how popular at the ballot box, survive constitutional challenge?  By the logic of the majoritarian opponents of gay marriage, it should.

However, the Fourteenth Amendment demands that state laws must apply equally to all citizens, and those laws, at the very least, must not draw arbitrary, irrational, or unreasonable divisions between people. The laws must not be motivated by hate or animus. If a state passes a law which discriminates between certain groups, it has to have a good reason to do so. And if a state law discriminates against a group which has historically been treated unfairly, the state has to have an even better reason – a compelling reason – to justify it, and the law has to be very strictly worded as not to infringe on other groups or rights beyond the scope of that compelling reason. Mere popularity just isn't enough. If James Madison, his fellow founders, and brave judges had not had the foresight and determination to protect individual rights from majority passion and power, it would have been, and no end to the injustice of legal inequality would be possible.

If you've been reading this blog for any amount of time, the conflict between majority rule and individual liberty will be a familiar topic to you. I'm deeply interested in the American effort to strike a balance between democracy and freedom. Though we often conflate those two terms, the freedom of the unpopular is always at risk when the popular call the shots, and this struggle has perplexed us from the Revolution to today.

Please check out the full essay, assuming you have an attention span sufficient for approximately four thousand words.