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Re: First call for votes for the Lenny release GR

On Fri, Dec 19, 2008 at 09:47:36AM +0100, Patrick Schoenfeld wrote:
> Hi,
> On Fri, Dec 19, 2008 at 09:28:27AM +0100, Raphael Hertzog wrote:
> > No. The constitution doesn't say that the secretary's job is to interpret
> > the DFSG and decide if the 3:1 majority requirement applies. And the job
> > of the secretary (contrary to the job of most delegates and debian
> > packagers) is expressly defined by the constitution.
> Its not neccessary to interpret the DFSG in order to set majority
> requirements.

Nowhere in the constitution is it said that the DFSG is law, and that it
cannot be overridden. Nowhere in the constitution is it said that the
social contract is law, and that it cannot be overridden.

I'm not saying we should just thump them out, but a temporary compromise
is not necessarily a change of our principles.

So, yes, that does require interpretation.

> > Any time that this is not the
> > case, you should assume that we're not changing our common goal but that
> > we're discussing the interpretation that we make of it or that we're
> > discussing the compromise that we can currently accept in order to
> > reach our common objective (as defined by the foundation document).
> No, thats a inherently wrong way to work with a constitution. Somebody
> earlier in one of the related threads brought a good example. He
> compared the consitution of Debian with the consititution of a state.
> The important thing about a constitution is that one has to be careful
> with it. Its not a law that you change or interpret like you want if you
> see fit.

Actually, a constitution /is/ a law; it's just a special type of law,
that other laws have to abide by. Indeed, the proper translation of the
word 'constitution' into Dutch is 'grondwet', something akin to 'base

As any piece of human language, a constitution is not mathematically
clear, and requires interpretation. Most constitutions stipulate things
in fairly broad and generic terms, since it is hard to change them; it
is then up to parliament to draft laws that specify those broad and
generic terms in more detailed language, and those regular laws can (and
are) changed all the time. Laws almost always get voted with simple
majority; even those laws that define a current interpretation to a

Sometimes, of course, a law is voted that is later found
unconstitutional by the body that decides such things. When that
happens, all or part of the unconstitutional law is repealed, and either
the constitution is changed or the wording of the new law is changed so
that it is no longer unconstitutional, and then put up for voting again.

If we are going to compare Debian to a country, and Debian's
constitutional processes to that of a country, I think it is obvious
that the differences are thusly:
- In a country, the body that decides whether a law is or is not
  unconstitutional, can only do so when a citizen explicitly asks it to
  do so. In the absence of such a question, each and every law is
  assumed to be constitutional. In Debian, the body that decides on
  constitutionality also happens to be the body that takes votes, and is
  able to impose constitutional restrictions in the vote-taking. This
  body has, in the past, declared that something is unconstitutional
  without explicitly being asked about it.
- In a country, the body that decides on constitutionality is usually a
  court of law that is built up of more than one judge. In Debian, the
  body that decides on constitutionality is just one person.

I think that we have made the mistake of giving too much power to one
person. While I do not think Manoj willingly abused that power, I do
think that this has made it harder for him to retain his objectivity;
and that he has lost it over the years, though through no fault of his

The solution therefore seems obvious: The secretary should no longer be
the person who interprets the constitution. Instead, interpretation of
the constitution should be given to a small body of trusted developers
who only decide on interpretation when explicitly asked to do so.

This could be the technical committee, or it could be a new body; but
I'd say that leaving interpretation up to one man has now clearly been
proven to be a bad idea.

<Lo-lan-do> Home is where you have to wash the dishes.
  -- #debian-devel, Freenode, 2004-09-22

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