Many democracies have sought to preserve the integrity of their governments by prohibiting individuals who have been convicted of corruption-related offenses (or other serious crimes) from holding public office, either for a period of time or permanently. Such a prohibition was on the ballot this past September in Chile, when citizens voted on whether to adopt a new constitution. That proposed constitution included, among its many provisions, a specific article (Article 172) that would have disqualified from public office any person who had been convicted of a corruption offense. The provision did not become law, however, because Chilean voters overwhelmingly rejected the proposed constitution for reasons that had almost nothing to do with the relatively obscure Article 172.
The inclusion of that article in the proposed constitution does, however, invite the consideration of two distinct but related questions: First, should Chile—or another similarly situated democracy—adopt a law disqualifying those convicted of corruption from holding public office? Second, if the answer to the first question is yes, should that disqualification rule appear in the constitution (as opposed to an ordinary statute), which is, by design, much harder to change?
The answer to the first question, at least for Chile, is probably yes. The answer to the second question, though, is no. Chile should experiment with a disqualification law, but should not constitutionalize it.
This conclusion arises from a careful consideration of the advantages and disadvantages of disqualification laws and, perhaps more importantly, the conditions that must obtain for those laws to be beneficial: