Bicameral Motivations

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  • Topic: United States, Legislatures, Bicameralism
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  • Published : May 26, 2013
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WHY WOULD A COUNTRY ADOPT A BICAMERAL SYSTEM? DISCUSS WITH REFERENCE TO MEG RUSSELL’S TREATMENT OF THE TOPIC AND USE EXAMPLES IN YOUR ANSWER.

Why would a nation split its legislative branch into two bodies? What motivations would justify this division? In this essay I will convey the reasons I believe a democratic state would adopt this legislative approach. I will explore the cultural and political backgrounds of several of the world’s dominant bicameral entities, offering an in depth analysis of how the first of the world’s bicameral nations emerged and what each house of parliament came to represent. The relationship of power between the executive and legislative branches of bicameral government offers an interesting perspective on the democratic legitimacy of the upper chamber. Meg Russell’s analysis of bicameral states offers significant insight as to how these legislative bodies function and pass bills into law. A system of scrutiny emerges and offers both positive and negative outcomes. Why a country might adopt a bicameral legislative structure is a question that can be approached from any number of angles. Meg Russell suggests that a bicameral structure is adopted by some nations as a means to guarantee the representation of different interests. The bicameral standard of an ‘upper’ and ‘lower’ chamber owes its origins to the class based system of the previous millennia (Russell 2001). As the original contemporary ‘mother of parliaments’ (Muthoo and Shepsle 2009) Britain’s model institutional practices are in effect throughout the western world. By the time Angle’s and Saxon’s had an established presence in England in the Ninth century, councils existed that combined the executive, legislative and judicial branches under military rule. By the end of the thirteenth century two distinct legislative bodies emerged, one was comprised of geographically based representatives and the other was made up of privileged or appointed individuals. This was the beginning of the process that drew power away from the monarchy and distributed it to parliament. King John’s commitment to parliament in 1215 that he would seek permission to raise taxes above his feudal prerogative exemplifies this transition. This would develop over the centuries into the model of bicameralism Britain has today, the ‘House of Common’s’ and the ‘House of Lords’, Lowenburg and Patterson state that bicameralism owes its origins to the pre-democratic perspective that a nation’s representation requires an ‘upper’ and ‘lower’ house, reflecting the separation of class between the common folk and the aristocracy. Over time, France, Germany, Italy, Spain and many other nations adopted bicameral legislature. The underlying motivation as suggested by Meg Russell is that the upper house guards against ‘the tyranny of the majority’ as the first chamber are popularly elected. This ‘protection’ takes form through territorial, ethnic or linguistic representation. Tow features that stand out in bicameral states is that they are predominantly comprised of federal nations or nations with large populations (Russell 2001). Representation in contemporary bicameral states is most commonly in the form of territory, either along provincial, regional, or state lines. In the United States, the House of Representatives (first chamber) is represented through population, each congressional district represents approximately 650,000 individuals (The Dirkson Congressional Centre n/a). Therefore, large states have a heavier presence than smaller states. The Senate maintains a constant number, with each state represented by two senators, while Congress can get bigger at any time. Perhaps the most interesting and defining feature of any bicameral legislature is the distribution of power and influence between the two legislative bodies and the executive. A second chamber’s power over the executive is a crucial aspect of its capacity to pass and enact legislature. However, second...
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