Our Say: Schuh will regret birth of an all-white school board, Capital, February 9, 2016.
The democratic theory that this Capital editorial is premised on is called “descriptive representation.” It’s the idea that elected bodies should have the same visible characteristics as the constituents they represent. This is actually a very controversial theory. Perhaps the classic argument used against it is Clarence Thomas’s appointment to the U.S. Supreme Court. Since then it has been used much less frequently with regard to the judiciary. The great advantage of descriptive representation is that when reporters and the public are clueless about how representatives actually act, this is a second-best mechanism on which to evaluate representatives. Given that Capital editors and reporters have never invested the resources to find out what school board members actually do and how that actually affects students, it may well be that descriptive representation is the highest form of representation that the Capital and the community may reasonably hope for. If so, it’s a very sad commentary about the nature of the information service the Capital provides our community.
Capital News Article
Sauers, Elisha, Anne Arundel school board lacks black representation for first time in decade, Capital, February 9, 2016.
“House Speaker Michael E. Busch, D-Annapolis, is incensed, saying this is a sad day for the community. He intends to advocate for legislative amendments that could potentially add CASA de Maryland and NAACP seats to the nominating commission.”
Adding two more stakeholders would give stakeholders a seven to six majority on the SBNC. I believe this would clearly violate the Equal Protection Clause of the U.S. Constitution’s 14th amendment unless the additional members were balanced by more elected official appointees, and even then there would be an Equal Protection concern. The Equal Protection Clause has been interpreted by the U.S. Supreme Court to require one-person, one-vote appointment processes for general offices, including boards of education.
The democratic theory being advocated here is arguably “consociationalism.” Consociationalism is associated with divided societies; e.g., countries such as Lebanon divided along linguistic, religious, and ethnic lines. Europe also has some consociationistic democracies, although Europe has moved away from such systems (e.g., the Netherlands from 1857 to 1967). Most democratic theorists consider consociationalism a second-best democratic solution. For example, it may be a good bridge mechanism to majoritarian democracy for a country such as Lebanon. America has never been fond of consociationalism. It is remarkable how uncontroversial this democratic theory has been in Anne Arundel County. I believe the lack of controversy may be based on a confusion about the fundamental differences among different types of government appointed public bodies.