Volume XXIX, Number 1
February 2004

Editor’s Introduction

 

        One of the most fascinating, and useful purposes of legislative research is to test conventional wisdom about this old established institution. Each of the articles in this issue of the Quarterly does that, focusing on a series of important subjects: senatorial courtesy, subnational effects on national legislatures, the representation of small versus large states in federations, the representativeness of legislative committees, and token representation of minorities. The methods the authors employ vary widely and the contexts in which they study their subjects range from the U.S. Senate, to the Brazilian Congress, to U.S. state legislatures, and to the European Union. But although specialists will be most interested in one or another of the articles in this issue, scholars interested in legislatures generally will find in all of the articles modifications of conventional wisdom about legislative institutions.

        Conflicts between the President and the Senate over judicial appointments in the United States have received a great deal of public and scholarly attention. Are presidential appointments to judgeships on U.S. district courts subject to vetoes by the senators from the home state of the appointee? Sarah A. Binder and Forrest Maltzman examine this piece of conventional wisdom by looking behind the visible confirmation process. They analyze the time it has taken to fill each of 2,163 judicial vacancies during the second half of the 20th century using a hazard rate model. They test the effect of various factors on the interval between the occurrence of a vacancy and the president’s presentation of a judicial nominee. Having a senator of the president’s party from the home state of the nominee is taken as an indicator of the effect of “senatorial courtesy.” That turns out to be just one factor among others in speeding nominations. Ideological foes of the president, especially when they are the chair of the Judiciary Committee, impose constraints on the president the longer the vacancy is open. Once the “easy” uncontroversial nominations take place, the dynamics of the committee confirmation process take over. Presidents and home state senators do not simply control judicial appointments as the conventional view holds.

        Generalizing from the American experience, it is taken for granted that state politics affect national politics, but the increasing availability of data on non-American systems makes it possible to test that proposition in other settings. This is what John M. Carey and Gina Yannitell Reinhardt have done. They have examined the influence of two state-level institutional characteristics of Brazilian politics on voting unity in the national Congress. They look at the open list system of proportional representation, which presumably encourages competition among members anxious to establish their own reputation among voters. They also analyze the effect of alliances between members of a state congressional delegation and the state’s governor. Since the states are the electoral district in Brazil, the authors are looking for the effect of these state-level characteristics, which vary from one state to another, on the voting unity of state party groups in the Congress. They find that the open list system does diminish voting unity: the larger the group of members elected from a state by a party or a coalition from a state, the less unified it is. But the authors discover no gubernatorial effect on voting unity. Their study offers a refinement of generalizations about subnational influences on national politics in federal systems.

        The “great compromise” between the interests of small and large states in representation in the U.S. Congress is usually taken as the model for arranging representation in the national legislature in federal systems. But is it true that the interests of small states are best protected by their equal representation in one house of the legislature? Tasos Kalandrakis models the effect of other variables on the relative advantages of small and large states in bicameral legislatures when the issue is the allocation of a scarce resource among the states. He comes up with a whole series of counterintuitive propositions that he derives from a model of the legislative process. His model takes account of the interaction between the two houses, of whether a particular resource allocation is proposed by a large or a small state, by changes in the number of small or large states in the federation, and by variations in the requirements for passage of a proposal in each house. The article is primarily theoretical, though Kalandrakis shows how his model can be applied to the 103d U.S. Congress and to the legislative institutions of the European Union both before and after the Treaty of Nice. Among his unexpected conclusions is that, all other things being equal, an increase in the representation of small states may actually decrease their expected payoff. He shows that the proposal power is very important in determining outcomes, that excess majorities may occur in one of the two houses of an interacting bicameral legislature, and that the effect of these variables on the interests of small and large states is not monotonic.

        L. Marvin Overby, Thomas A. Kazee, and David W. Prince extend the well-established line of research on the representativeness of legislative committees by examining nearly the entire universe of these committees in the U.S. state legislatures. Their data are the ratings of legislators provided by a single but important interest group, the National Federation of Independent Business. They conclude that committee outliers are very rare, that most committees are representative of their parent chamber, and that no single factor explains the existence of those few committees that are unrepresentative. These simply appear to be idiosyncratic. The article is a comprehensive, detailed analysis that lends strong support to the widely shared conclusion that legislative committees at both the national and state level are representative of the legislature as a whole, presumably because that is the rational way to organize legislative business. The article confirms what has become the new conventional wisdom, the informational model of legislative organization.

        Is their any point in having token representation of minorities in legislatures? Did small numbers of women members have any effect on public policy in the years when they were just appearing in U.S. state legislatures? Jocelyn Elise Crowley has studied the influence of women legislators between 1976 and 1984 on the passage of legislation to encourage child support payments in 49 states that were acting in response to a federal mandate. She uses an ordered probit model to examine three hypotheses about the impact of these small minorities. Her counterintuitive conclusion is that where women constituted a tiny minority they had a greater impact on the passage of child support laws than when they constituted more than 15% of the members, perhaps because as a larger minority the interests of women members were diffused across a larger number of issues. Although focusing on the influence of a particular form of minority representation on a particular issue in a particular legislative setting, this article raises interesting ­questions about the impact of a widely observed phenomenon in legislatures, token representation, and its practical rather than merely its descriptive function.

                                                                              —Gerhard Loewenberg


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