Empowered Mini-Publics: A Shortcut or Democratically Legitimate?

Paper by Shao Ming Lee: “Contemporary mini-publics involve randomly selected citizens deliberating and eventually tackling thorny issues. Yet, the usage of mini-publics in creating public policy has come under criticism, of which a more persuasive  strand  is  elucidated  by  eminent  philosopher  Cristina  Lafont,  who  argues  that  mini-publics  with  binding  decision-making  powers  (or  ‘empowered  mini-publics’)  are  an  undemocratic  ‘shortcut’  and  deliberative democrats thus cannot use empowered mini-publics for shaping public policies. This paper aims to serve as a nuanced defense of empowered mini-publics against Lafont’s claims. I argue against her  claims  by  explicating  how  participants  of  an  empowered  mini-public  remain  ordinary,  accountable,  and therefore connected to the broader public in a democratically legitimate manner. I further critique Lafont’s own proposals for non-empowered mini-publics and judicial review as failing to satisfy her own criteria for democratic legitimacy in a self-defeating manner and relying on a double standard. In doing so, I show how empowered mini-publics are not only democratic but can thus serve to expand democratic deliberation—a goal Lafont shares but relegates to non-empowered mini-publics…(More)”.

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