Criteria for a Constitutionally Republican and Liberal Democracy
1. Elected legislators make all law: there are no law-making roles for the military, police, executive officeholders, judges, bureaucrats, religious leaders, warlords, crime bosses, or mobs.
2. Government power is constrained and distributed across institutions. In the U.S.A., power is constitutionally constrained only to those powers expressly delegated. Power is divided and shared across the federal, state, and local governments; across the executive, legislative, and judicial functions; and even within the federal and state legislatures, each of which is divided into a house and a senate.* See also these two pages on the separation of powers from Ballotpedia and the U.S. Congress.
3. Elections are free – anyone of age may vote or run for office – and fair – there are no attempts to bias the results through dirty tricks, use of force, corruption, or abuse of government resources or laws.
4. People may freely organize themselves into political organizations, caucuses, and parties.
5. People have freedom of assembly, free speech, and the right to petition their government.
6. The media are free to publish what they wish (“freedom of the press”), and everyone has unfettered access to multiple sources of information.
7. Everyone is equal under the law, and all are subject to the same laws.
8. Political and civil rights are guaranteed for everyone, always. No groups may be excluded from the political process, nor denied the liberty to live their lives as they please.
9. Laws protect against unjustified state repression.
10. A supreme Constitution guarantees all of the above.
11. An independent and objective judiciary or supreme court upholds the Constitution and protects political and civil rights.
* Excluding Nebraska which has a unicameral (single house) legislature.
Over time, and with struggle, the U.S.A. has moved towards substantially meeting most of the criteria in Table 1. The U.S.A. can, therefore, be classified as a constitutionally republican and liberal democracy.
Government systems that do not meet most of the criteria in Table 1 are classified as illiberal. Ambitious people in illiberal regimes can rig some or all parts of the system in favor of one political leader, group, or party because there are few protected political and civil rights – or because rights are not evenly protected across groups. Power becomes concentrated in the hands of just a few people or groups. Good ideas from those out of power are often never heard or quickly rejected.
Excerpted from America: Democracy or Republic?