While change is a constant in our lives, there are practices and traditions that age better with time. In this, the experience of the US is instructive. As has been pointed out on numerous occasions, probably the most counterfeited currency ever is the US dollar. And yet not once has it been demonetised in efforts at preventing such counterfeiting, an effort that empirical evidence will show has failed each time they have been attempted. A similar absence of tinkering is seen in the method of composition of the US Senate. Although the population of the US has increased manifold since the 100-member Senate was first conceived, there have been few voices calling for an expansion in either its membership or in its method of selection. States with large populations such as New York or California have the same number of Senators (two) as do states with far smaller populations, such as Wyoming or Montana. Of course, those states with larger populations have more seats in the House of Representatives, but this does not affect the reality that the Senate plays a decisive role in the passing of legislation. Chunks of the transformational legislation sought by President Joe Biden have had to be abandoned because there were not enough Senators ready to vote for them. Its functioning since the addition of three justices during the term of President Trump has ensured that six of its nine members are acting in the manner that faith leaders close to the Republican Party would do. At the highest level of the US justice system, faith and political affiliation appear to be playing the determining role in the giving of majority verdicts, a factor that has led millions of citizens to lose faith in the quality of justice given by the Supreme Court. Of course, given Biden’s innate caution about things other than taking revenge on Vladimir Putin for having stopped Hillary Clinton from reclaiming the White House in 2016, even should the Democratic Party secure a decisive majority in both the Senate as well as the House of Representatives, the 46th President of the US is unlikely to expand the Supreme Court from nine to fifteen justices, a step that needs to be attempted if the Supreme Court continues on its present path.
In the 1930s, President Franklin Roosevelt threatened to expand the Supreme Court, but in that institution, there was worry that the popular US President may try to expand the bench once again. After that, the very justices who used to reflexively block the economic and social welfare measures introduced by the White House to alleviate suffering among the people switched to supporting several of the New Deal measures of Roosevelt, who is considered part of the trio forming the greatest names in the US Presidency, together with George Washington and Abraham Lincoln. It remains to be seen whether the six justices who act as though they and not the elected representatives of the people have the right to decide policy will understand the limits of their power, as if not, pressure to expand the Supreme Court would become difficult even for Biden to resist. Meanwhile in India, as yet nothing has been done to ensure one-third representation for women in the Lok Sabha. A workable plan would be to create enough multi-member constituencies across the country as would ensure that at least a third of Lok Sabha seats get filled by women. Selected constituencies could elect as MPs not just the candidate polling the highest number of votes, but the woman candidate polling the highest number of votes as well. If both are women, so much the better. Such a solution would be implemented such as to retain the present proportion of seats held by each state. It would be unfair to alter this proportion, and in the process, create a dynamic that would work to increase the rate of population growth rather than continue on the present path of getting towards a rate of population growth that is better aligned with those of more developed countries. Gender justice is close to the heart of Prime Minister Narendra Modi, and once the new Parliament House with its additional capacity gets completed, at long last the objective of reserving a third of Lok Sabha seats for women could be fulfilled.
MADHAV DAS NALAPAT