Aziz Huq and Tom Ginsburg Compare Disqualifications Among Democracies

The Law of Individual Disqualification in a Democracy

In the aftermath of the Jan. 6 attempted insurrection, a largely unasked question concerns whether consequences should be imposed on any of the elected actors responsible. In particular, having worked against democracy, should they be allowed to continue to participate in democratic life? Or should they be disqualified from holding office in the future? 

The absence of discussion on this question should seem odd: The United States appears to be in a moment when a constitutional mechanism to sanction individual antagonists of democracy seems urgently needed, and many other countries are in similar situations. But precisely because the question is so immediate, it generates a paralyzing partisan divide. The causes of the general crisis, in other words, stymie consideration of its immediate potential solutions. 

The disqualification of individuals for their anti-democratic actions presents a specific iteration of a pervasive problem of democratic design: the tension between democratic self-realization and democratic self-destruction. On the one hand, democratic institutions have a reasonable claim to set the terms of political participation. The forms of elections, the rules for candidate and voter qualification, and ballot access rules are commonly matters for democratic decision. On the other hand, there is a risk that the power to set rules for the democratic game will be used to fence out disfavored groups, to entrench incumbents beyond electoral challenge or to create the image of democratic competition without its substance. Democratic mechanisms—including rules for disqualification—must be designed to advance the goal of self-government without facilitating malign entrenchment. Unbounded, the power to exclude specific individuals can imperil democracy. But its absence also means lost opportunities to deepen democracy and even to defend its basic existence. 

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Constitutional democracy