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Brooklyn Law Review

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Since before the American Revolution, students of democracy have debated the nature of the duty an elected representative owes to those who elected him. Some have argued that the representative is the mere agent of his constituents and bound to obey their will, since the legislature is only a convenient substitute for the town meeting. Others have contended that the representative's duty is to use his independent judgment on public issues, regardless of the sentiments of his constituents at any given moment, and subject only to their verdict on election day, since he must be free to participate in the political give-and-take necessary to the smooth running of any body that represents diverse interests.

The effort to place limits on representatives' discretion had its origins in the belief that officeholders were not to be trusted and that the corrupting effect of power would inevitably cause them to seek their own aggrandizement at the expense of citizens' liberty. Hence, the preservation of freedom required the maintenance of a ceaseless vigil over those in government.

Although this attitude is as salutary today as it ever was, the question of the relationship between an elected representative and his electorate has become increasingly irrelevant to the exercise of political power. Today, we are ruled in large measure by the boards and bureaucrats of the executive branch of the federal government.