Print Issue Volume 93 - No. 4

Reason-Giving and Accountability

This Article explains that elected officials are not politically accountable for their specific policy decisions in the manner that is typically envisioned by modern public law. It claims, however, that public officials in a democracy can be held deliberatively accountable by a requirement or expectation that they give reasoned explanations for their decisions that could be accepted by free and equal citizens with fundamentally competing perspectives. The Article contends that the political accountability paradigm that currently dominates American public law should be discarded as a basis for legitimizing specific policy decisions in favor of an enhanced focus on deliberative accountability. It explains that a paradigm shift in our understanding of democratic accountability would have significant implications for the proper conception of the structure of American democracy, which would help to resolve some of the most contested issues in the fields of constitutional theory, administrative law, and legislation. Finally, it points out that a paradigm shift of this nature would also have tangible implications for certain individual rights, which are illustrated by the controversy over the appropriate legal treatment of same-sex marriage.

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