As you know, 15 Democratic state legislators in Wisconsin are hiding out in Illinois–beyond the jurisdiction of Wisconsin state troopers–to prevent a quorum so that Republican lawmakers can’t pass a bill cutting benefits for state workers and restricting their union. Now Democratic lawmakers in Indiana are doing the same thing, for much the same reason. Two Maryland legislators were briefly on the lam on the issue of gay marriage. The tactic has been used before–Abraham Lincoln did it as a state representative in Illinois, as did Texas Democrats in 2003 trying to foil a redistricting plan–but not all that often.
Let’s bracket the specific issues that have sparked this behavior. Though the modern-day examples I could find have all been Democrats doing it, the tactic could just as easily be used by Republicans in the minority who want to stop some bill.
Doesn’t the deliberate absence of legislators to prevent a quorum thwart democracy and representational government? Doesn’t this give minority parties, in effect, a preemptive veto on all bills they do not like? State and national constitutions generally give a veto to the executive branch, to the president or governor, but this seems an even greater power. Executive vetoes can be overturned by a two-thirds majority, but this legislative veto cannot be overturned by any majority, since it prevents a majority from ever being formed. Moreover, it prevents a duly-elected constitutional body from convening.
Isn’t this tactic unconstitutional, whether according to the national Constitution, which mandates that all states be governed as republics, or to state constitutions? Is there any theoretical argument that can justify this practice? If so, I’d like to hear it. (I’m not interested in arguments that “they have a right to do this” or that “it’s legal.” I’m wanting to know in what sense this can be considered good government. If you defend it because of the specific bills that are being blocked, please use examples as if the other side from the one you agree on were doing this. That is, if you like the Democrats doing it to protect unions, would you similarly like it if the Republicans did it to block health care reform?)