Constitutional Political Economy

, Volume 28, Issue 2, pp 195–208 | Cite as

The problem of constitutional legitimation: what the debate on electoral quotas tells us about the legitimacy of decision-making rules in constitutional choice

  • Aris Trantidis
Original Paper


Proponents of electoral quotas have a ‘dependent interpretation’ of democracy, i.e. they have formed an opinion on which decision-making rules are fair on the basis of their prior approval of the outcomes these rules are likely to generate. The article argues that this position causes an irresolvable problem for constitutional processes that seek to legitimately enact institutional change. While constitutional revision governed by formal equality allows the introduction of electoral quotas, this avenue is normatively untenable for proponents of affirmative action if they are consistent with their claim that formal equality reproduces biases and power asymmetries at all levels of decision-making. Their critique raises a fundamental challenge to the constitutional revision rule itself as equally unfair. Without consensus on the decision-making process by which new post-constitutional rules can be legitimately enacted, procedural fairness becomes an issue impossible to resolve at the stage of constitutional choice. This problem of legitimation affects all instances of constitutional choice in which there are opposing views not only about the desired outcome of the process but also about the decision-making rules that govern constitutional choice.


Constitutional theory Constitutional choice Affirmative action Formal equality Substantive equality Electoral quotas Feminist theory Calculus of Consent 

JEL Classification

A13 A12 H1 


  1. Bacchi, Carol Lee. (2006). Arguing for and against quotas: Theoretical issues. In Drude Dahlerup (Ed.), Women, quotas and politics (pp. 32–51). London/New York: Routledge.Google Scholar
  2. Baldez, Lisa. (2006). The Pros and cons of gender quota laws: What happens when you kick men out and let women in? Politics and Gender, 2, 102–109.Google Scholar
  3. Baltrunaite, Audinga, Bello, Piero, Casarico, Alessandra, & Profeta, Paola. (2012). Gender quotas and the quality of politicians. Mimeo: Bocconi University.Google Scholar
  4. Besley, Timothy, Folke, Olle, Persson, Torsten, & Rickne, Johanna. (2012). Gender quotas and the crisis of the mediocre man. Mimeo: Centre for Economic Policy Research.Google Scholar
  5. Boyle, Christine. (1983). Home-rule for women: Power-sharing between men and women. Dalhousie Law Journal, 7, 790–809.Google Scholar
  6. Bratton, Kathleen A. (2005). Critical mass theory revisited: The behavior and success of token women in state legislatures. Politics and Gender, 1, 97–125.Google Scholar
  7. Bratton, Kathleen A., & Ray, Leonard P. (2002). Descriptive representation, policy outcomes, and municipal day care coverage in Norway. American Journal of Political Science, 46, 428–437.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  8. Brooks, Rachel, Eagle, Angela, & Claire Short, C. (1990). Quotas now: Women and the Labour Party. London: Fabian Pamphlet.Google Scholar
  9. Buchanan, James M., & Congleton, Roger D. (1998). Politics by principle, not interest: Toward nondiscriminatory democracy (p. 1998). Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  10. Buchanan, James M., & Tullock, Gordon. (1962). The calculus of consent. Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  11. Burnheim, John. (1985). Is democracy possible? The alternative to electoral politics. Cambridge: Polity/Blackwell.Google Scholar
  12. Campbell, Rose, Childs, Sarah, & Lovenduski, Joni. (2010). Do women need women representatives. British Journal of Political Science, 40, 171–194.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  13. Carroll, Susan J. (2001). Representing women: Women state legislators as agents of policy-related change. In Susan J. Carroll (Ed.), The impact of women in public office (pp. 3–21). Bloomington and Indianapolis: Indiana University Press.Google Scholar
  14. Celis, Karen, Childs, Sarah, Kantola, Johanna, & Krook, Mona L. (2008). Rethinking women’s substantive representation. Representation, 44, 99–110.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  15. Childs, Sarah. (2006). The house turned upside down? The difference Labour’s women MPs made. In Marian Sawer, Manon Tremblay, & Linda Trimble (Eds.), Representing women in parliament (pp. 152–167). Oxford: Routledge.Google Scholar
  16. Childs, Sarah, & Krook, Mona Lena. (2006). Gender and politics: The state of the art. Politics, 26, 19–28.Google Scholar
  17. Childs, Sarah, & Webb, Paul. (2012). Sex, gender and the conservative party. Basingstoke: Palgrave.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  18. Dahlerup, Drude. (2006). Introduction. In Drude Dahlerup (Ed.), Women, quotas and politics (pp. 3–31). New York: Routledge.Google Scholar
  19. Dahlerup, Drude. (2007). Electoral gender quotas: Between equality of opportunity and equality of result. Representation, 43, 73–92.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  20. Dahlerup, Drude. (2002), Using quotas to increase women’s political representation. International IDEA, 2002, Women in Parliament, Stockholm.Google Scholar
  21. Dahlerup, Drude, & Freidenvall, Lenita. (2005). Quotas as a ‘fast track’ to equal representation for women. International Feminist Journal of Politics, 7, 26–48.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  22. Dahlerup, Drude, & Freidenvall, Lenita. (2010). Judging gender quotas: predictions and results. Policy and Politics, 38, 407–425.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  23. Darcy, Robert, Welsh, Susan, & Clark, Janet. (1994). Women, elections and representation. Lincoln: University of Nebraska.Google Scholar
  24. Diamond, Irene. (1977). Sex roles in the state house. New Haven: Yale University Press.Google Scholar
  25. Dodson, Debra, & Carroll, Susan J. (1991). Reshaping the agenda: Women in state legislatures. New Brunswick: Eagleton Institute of Politics.Google Scholar
  26. Escobar-Lemmon, Maria, & Taylor-Robinson, Michelle. (2009). Getting to the top: Career paths of women in Latin American cabinets. Political Research Quarterly, 62, 685–699.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  27. Gould, Carol. (1996). Diversity and democracy: Representing differences. In Seyla Benhabib (Ed.), Democracy and difference: Contesting the boundaries of the political (pp. 171–186). Princeton: Princeton University Press.Google Scholar
  28. Guadagnini, Marila. (1998). The debate on women’s quotas in Italian electoral legislation. Swiss Political Science Review, 4, 97–102.Google Scholar
  29. Hayman, Robert L., Jr. (1992). Re-cognizing inequality: Rebellion, redemption and the struggle for transcendence in the equal protection of the law. Harvard Civil Rights-Civil Liberties Law Review, 27, 48–49.Google Scholar
  30. Htun, Mala. (2004). Is gender like ethnicity? The political representation of identity groups. Perspectives on Politics, 2, 439–458.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  31. Htun, Mala. (2004). Is gender like ethnicity? The political representation of identity groups. Perspectives on Politics, 2, 439–458.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  32. Inglehart, Ronald, Norris, Pippa, & Welzel, Christian. (2002). Gender equality and democracy. Comparative Sociology, 1, 321–346.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  33. Júlio, Paolo, & Tavares, José. (2010). the good, the bad and the different: Can gender quotas raise the quality of politicians?. Mimeo: Centre for Economic Policy Research.Google Scholar
  34. Kymlicka, Will. (1993). Group representation in Canadian politics. In F. L. Seidle (Ed.), Equity and community: The charter, interest advocacy and representation (pp. 61–90). Toronto: IRPP.Google Scholar
  35. Kymlicka, Will. (1995). Multicultural citizenship: A liberal theory of minority rights. Oxford: Oxford University Press.Google Scholar
  36. Landau, Iddo. (1997). Are you entitled to affirmative action? International Journal of Applied Philosophy, 11, 17–22.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  37. Lovenduski, Joni. (1997). Gender politics: A breakthrough for women? Parliamentary Affairs, 50, 708–719.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  38. MacDougal, L. (1998). Westminster women. London: Vintage.Google Scholar
  39. Maier, Charles S., & Klausen, Jytte. (2001). Has liberalism failed women? Assuring equal representation in Europe and the United States. New York: Palgrave.Google Scholar
  40. Mansbridge, Jane. (1999). Should blacks represent blacks and women represent women? A contingent “yes”. The Journal of Politics, 61, 628–657.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  41. Mansbridge, Jane. (2005). Quota problems: combating the dangers of essentialism. Politics & Gender, 1, 622–638.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  42. Meier, Petra. (2000). The evidence of being present: Guarantees of representation and the Belgian example. Acta Politica: International Journal of Political Science, 35, 64–85.Google Scholar
  43. Minow, Martha. (1990). Making all the difference: Inclusion, exclusion and American Law. Ithaca: Cornell University Press.Google Scholar
  44. Murrey, Rainbow. (2013). Quotas, citizens and norms of representation. Politics and Gender, 9, 304–309.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  45. Murrey, Rainbow. (2014). Quotas for men: Reframing gender quotas as a means of improving representation for all. American Political Science Review, 108, 520–532.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  46. Phillips, Anne. (1995). The politics of presence. Oxford: Oxford University Press.Google Scholar
  47. Phillips, Anne. (1998). Democracy and representation: Or, why should it matter who our representatives are. In Anne Phillips (Ed.), Feminism and politics (pp. 224–241). Oxford: Oxford University Press.Google Scholar
  48. Phillips, Anne. (2004). Defending equality of outcome. Journal of Political Philosophy, 21(1), 1–19.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  49. Reingold, Beth. (2000). Representing women: Sex, gender, and legislative behavior in Arizona and California. Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press.Google Scholar
  50. Russell, Meg. (2000). Women’s representation in UK politics: What can be done with the law?. London: The Constitution Unit.Google Scholar
  51. Sapiro, Virginia. (1981). When are interests interesting? The problem of political representation of women. American Political Science Review, 75, 701–716.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  52. Schneider, Monica. C., & Bos, Angela L. (2014). Measuring stereotypes of female politicians. Political Psychology, 35, 245–266.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  53. Schwindt-Bayer, Leslie A. (2006). Still Supermadres? Gender and policy priorities of Latin American legislators. American Journal of Political Science, 50, 570–685.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  54. Sowell, Thomas. (2004). Affirmative action around the world: An empirical study. New Haven: Yale University Press.Google Scholar
  55. Stevens, Anne. (2012). Comparing and assessing gender effects in political leadership. In Ludger Helms (Ed.), Comparative political leadership (pp. 207–226). Palgrave: Basingstoke.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  56. Swers, Michelle. (2001). Understanding the policy impact of electing women: Evidence from research on congress and state legislatures. Political Science and Society, 34, 217–220.Google Scholar
  57. Swers, Michelle. (2005). Connecting descriptive and substantive representation: An analysis of sex differences in cosponsorship activity. Legislative Studies Quarterly, 30, 407–433.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  58. Tamerius, Karin L. (1995). Sex, gender, and leadership in the representation of women. In Georgia Duerst-Lahti & Rita Mae Kelly (Eds.), Gender, power, leadership, and governance (pp. 93–112). Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press.Google Scholar
  59. Taylor-Robinson, Michelle, & Heath, Roseanna Michelle. (2003). Do women legislators have different policy priorities than their male colleagues? A critical test. Women and Politics, 24, 77–101.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  60. Tebble, Adam. J. (2002). What is the politics of difference? Political Theory, 30, 259–281.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  61. Thomas, Sue. (1994). How women legislate. New York: Oxford University Press.Google Scholar
  62. Tremblay, Manon. (1998). Do female MPs substantively represent women? Canadian Journal of Political Science, 31, 435–465.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  63. Tripp, Aili Mari, & Kang, Alice. (2008). The global impact of quotas: on the fast track to increased female representation. Comparative Political Studies, 41, 338–361.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  64. Vanberg, Viktor J. (2004). The status quo in contractarian constitutionalist perspective. Constitutional Political Economy, 15, 153–170.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  65. Vega, Arturo, & Firestone, Juanita M. (1995). The effects of gender on congressional behavior and the substantive representation of women. Legislative Studies Quarterly, 20, 213–222.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  66. von der Pfordten, D. (2012). Five elements of normative ethics—a general theory of normative individualism. Ethical Theory and Moral Practice, 15(4), 449–471.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  67. Ward, R., Jones, R., Hughes, J., Humberstone, N., & Pearson, R. (2008). Intersections of ageing and sexuality: accounts from older people. In R. Ward & B. Bytheway (Eds.), Researching age and multiple discrimination (pp. 45–72). London: Centre for Policy on Ageing/The Open University.Google Scholar
  68. Weldon, S. Laurel. (2002). Beyond bodies: Institutional sources of representation for women in democratic policymaking. Journal of Politics, 64, 1153–1174.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  69. Williams, Melissa. (1998). Voice, trust and memory: Marginalized groups and the failings of liberal representation. Princeton: Princeton University Press.Google Scholar
  70. Wilson, William J. (1987). The Truly disadvantaged: The inner city, the underclass, and public policy. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.Google Scholar
  71. Wolbrecht, Christina. (2002). Female legislators and the women’s rights agenda: From feminine mystique to feminist era. In Cindy Simon Rosenthal (Ed.), Women transforming Congress (pp. 170–197). Norman: University of Oklahoma Press.Google Scholar
  72. Young, Iris M. (1989). Polity and group difference: A critique of the ideal of universal citizenship. Ethics, 99, 250–274.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  73. Young, Iris M. (1990). Justice and the politics of difference. Princeton: Princeton University Press.Google Scholar
  74. Young, Iris M. (1997). Deferring group representation. In Will Kymlicka & Ian Shapiro (Eds.), Nomos: Group rights. New York: New York University Press.Google Scholar
  75. Young, Iris M. (2000). Inclusion and democracy. Oxford: Oxford University Press.Google Scholar

Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media New York 2017

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of Social and Political SciencesEuropean University InstituteFlorenceItaly

Personalised recommendations