If you want to affect public policy decisions you need to know the difference between procedure and substance. We often turn out to be a bit weak on procedure. We know the substantive result we want, but we may not know how the agency we are trying to influence actually operates, and what procedures will guide the agency as it reacts to our demands, or as it seeks to do something that we may oppose. “Getting the facts” definitely includes getting the facts about the procedures that will govern agency deliberation and action.
Here’s another point: the courts are often much more willing to enforce procedural rights than they are to dictate substantive results. If a City Council or Board of Supervisors doesn’t follow the correct procedures, a court will often reverse a decision coming from such flawed procedures. However, if the procedures are fully compliant with the law, and a court is asked to reverse a substantive decision with which you disagree, it’s often much harder to get the court to rule in your favor.
The courts are legally bound to show deference to the substantive decisions of elected officials. This is in recognition of the essential nature of our representative democracy. If you don’t like the decisions being made by your elected officials, you should elect somebody else. As a general rule, the courts will overrule the decisions made by elected officials only if the elected officials didn’t follow the correct procedure.
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