The New York Times briefly reviewed a psychological paper on the unique procedures of the Ancient Jewish Ruling Body, the Sanhedrin. (see "Irving Janis' "Groupthink and the Sanhedrin of Ancient Israel.") The authors referred to Irving Janis' innovate conceptualization of 'groupthink' in order to demonstrate how the Jewish High Court of Israel not only resolved outstanding issues, but instituted practices to counter conformity, which would weaken the truth and integrity of final judgments.
For example, junior members of the Sanhedrin shared their opinions before senior members in order to prevent the wisdom of the elders from influencing the opinions of the younger.
Members were required to seek outside information for their cases to prevent the whole organization from becoming isolated.
If outside authorities disagreed with an opinion of the Sanhedrin, they were encouraged to present their case. Disciples of the legislators not only to watch the proceedings, but volunteered their opinions.
Even when the Sanhedrin reached a decision on a matter, they were required to set aside one day in case of "second-chance meetings" or last minute disputes which would bring up further questions.
In extreme cases like capital punishment, the league of seventy legislators would dismiss charges if every member unanimously voted guilty. To them, overwhelming consent signaled that if everyone was thinking the same, then no one was thinking at all, or conforming to 'groupthink’.
A model of breaking status quo conformity and welcoming dissent, the Sanhedrin serves as both a validation and a model for the gridlock in Washington D.C. today.
In Congress, young dissenters like the freshmen Tea Party caucus have frustrated established politicians’ efforts to pass legislation pro forma, like raising the debt ceiling or ending long-standing tax cuts. Because the opposition of the younger generation has frustrated those accustomed to passing spending bills without necessary funds, the country has gained much in fiscal conservatism.
Although Congress holds committee hearings to debate an issue before pushing for a vote, both Chambers of Congress would serve this nation better if they, like the Sanhedrin, heeded the their constituents, who are fed up with business as usual. Whether by snail mail or email, demonstrations at the national mall, or by broadcast newsmedia, the people are voicing their concerns. The American people want a responsible government that looks out for the needs of the country, not politicians who just want to bolster their reelection hopes.
Just as the Sanhedrin invited outsiders to participate in discussions, perhaps it would invigorate the deliberative process in Congress if citizens outside of the country not only presented their concerns to committees, but also offered their opinions on the floor of the House or Senate. Going beyond the set procedures of Sanhedrin, why not allow these citizen-delegates an opportunity to vote on key provisions before they are presented to the President for a final signature? Even the current delegate for Washington D.C. is permitted to vote in committee on bills and voice her opinions in the House Chamber.
Of all the Sanhedrin’s idiosyncratic procedures, the process of annulling a unanimous guilty verdict is intriguing. If the United States Government tailored the same idea to its legislative process, there would be more partisan compromise, or at least it would prevent one-party tyranny from imposing its will on the country by legislative fiat.
In one possible arrangement, for a bill to pass in the House or the Senate, the bill must succeed on more than a party-line vote. Following this scenario, the 2009 stimulus package would have never been signed into law. It passed the House on Democratic votes. Not one Republican supported the measure. The same resulted occurred with Obamacare, whose initial passage garnered only one Republican vote. The reconciliation compromise on the bill from the Senate did not gain one Republican supporter.
Both the stimulus and Obamacare have stirred up the most partisan rancor in this country, especially regarding the proper role of government in passing legislation strongly opposed by a concentrated opposition and the American people.
As established by this writer in a previous editorial and by other political scholars of American Government, the United States Constitution designed Congress to function at a slow and deliberate pace, frustrating such partisan zealotry in order to promote calm and cautious compromise. By simmering the hot passions of populism and entrenched elitism, the United States Congress must craft legislation which cannot create immense changes in the organization or machinations of the Government or the country. Though a tiresome and tedious process, a tardy or delayed government will pose far less a threat to the rights and integrity of the states and the people.
The elements of forced deliberation in the Sanhedrin not only foreshadow the necessary delays instituted into the United States Government, but validate those stalling measures and offer further examples on what future Congresses could adopt to secure the best interests of this country.
Some may charge that dilatory tactics of this nature jeopardize democracy, lacking no precedent in our system ofGovernment. On the contrary, the United States Senate allows a committed minority of legislators to stall legislation indefinitely--the filibuster. This procedure can only be stopped when three quarters of sitting Senators invoke cloture, or a call to end debate, before casting a final up-or-down vote. Recently, the filibuster has stalled numerous Congressional, Executive, and Judicial opponents, the last of which being the most contested since federal judges sit for lifetime appointments. Stalling tactics like the filibuster not only force Congressmen to deliberate further on major legislation and forge compromise, but these actions also safeguard minority rights and the lesser interests of smaller states, who would otherwise be overwhelmed by majority rule.
The Sanhedrin permitted legal delays, even to the point of requiring one day set aside for further deliberations before each Jewish legislator would cast his vote on a matter before the court. Perhaps forcing Congressmen to delay casting a floor vote by one day would allow junior members a final opportunity to voice any remaining opposition. Such an enforced delay would have permitted constituents more time to sway their Congressmen from voting on controversial legislation which to this day cause many to question their efficacy and constitutionality. For example, The Troubled Asset and Relief Program (TARP) met with vocal and widespread opposition. A key number of Congressmen were on the fence about the vote up until the last minute. Such a slim margin of confidence should be enough to question the passage of such a bill. Thus, a one-day delay would probably have been more than enough to dissuade those lone Congressmen from passing the unseemly bailouts, whose ultimate success at stabilizing markets has been questionable at best.
Despite anyone's opinion regarding the need for efficiency or deliberation in the highest ranks of government, the forced deliberative measures adopted by the Ancient Jewish Council of the Sanhedrin should be enough to convince today's partisans that gridlock has a pedigree, deserves free reign in our current legislative assemblies. Furthermore, the Sanhedrin’s more arcane procedures would benefit this nation further. Incorporating a one-day delay on casting final votes or inviting outside deliberation would furnish more safeguards for aggrieved voters who feel shut out of the legislative process.