Breaking the Constitutional Deadlock: Lessons from Deliberative Experiments in Constitutional Change

34 Pages Posted: 27 Sep 2011

See all articles by Ron Levy

Ron Levy

Australian National University

Date Written: 2010


This work provides comparative insights into how deliberation on proposed constitutional amendments might be more effectively pursued. It reports on a new nationwide survey of public attitudes to constitutional reform, examining the potential in Australia of innovative Canadian models of reform led by Citizens’ Assemblies. Assembly members are selected at random and are demographically representative of the wider public. They deliberate over reforms for several months while receiving instruction from experts in relevant fields. Members thus become ‘public-experts’: citizens who stand in for the wider public but are versed in constitutional fundamentals. The author finds striking empirical evidence that, if applied in the Australian context, public trust would be substantially greater for Citizens’ Assemblies compared with traditional processes of change.

The article sets these results in context, reading the Assemblies against theories of deliberative democracy and public trust. One reason for greater public trust in the Assemblies’ may be an ability to accommodate key values that are otherwise in conflict: majoritarian democratic legitimacy, on the one hand, and fair and well-informed (or ‘deliberatively rational’) decision-making, on the other. Previously, almost no other poll had asked exactly how much Australians trust in constitutional change. However, by resolving trust into a set of discrete public values, the polling and analysis in this work provide evidence that constitutional reform might only succeed when it expresses, at once, the values of both majoritarian and deliberative democracy.

Suggested Citation

Levy, Ron, Breaking the Constitutional Deadlock: Lessons from Deliberative Experiments in Constitutional Change (2010). Melbourne Univeristy Law Review, Vol. 34, No. 3, p. 805, Available at SSRN:

Ron Levy (Contact Author)

Australian National University ( email )

Canberra, Australian Capital Territory 2600

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