The Foundations of Advice & Consent: Original Intent & the Judicial Filibuster

Journal of Law and Politics: Vol. XXXI, no. 3 (2016): 297-331


This article examines three recent critiques of the judicial filibuster based on original intent. Such an examination suggests that arguments against the constitutionality of the judicial filibuster are dependent on flawed understandings of the Appointments Clause, the doctrine of separation of powers, and the principle of majority rule as it relates to the Constitution. Moreover, such arguments presume a degree of senatorial deference to the President in the confirmation process that stands in stark contrast to long-standing Senate practice. Basing the case for eliminating the filibuster for judicial nominations on constitutional or on republican grounds inadvertently undermines the doctrine of separation of powers, the independence of the judiciary, and calls into question the legitimacy of other established institutions in the Senate such as the committee system, the agenda-setting function of the majority party, and ultimately the legislative filibuster. 

Deliberative No Longer: The Eclipse of the Intended Role of the U.S. Senate

Humanitas: Vol. XXVII, no. 1 (2015): 5-35


This article juxtaposes the contemporary Senate with the institution’s creation at the Federal Convention in Philadelphia in 1787 and the general trend in its development over the past 225 years. Such an approach brings today’s dysfunction into sharper relief by providing another standard, one infrequently used in current scholarly and political debates, against which the contemporary Senate can be measured. This demonstrates another way in which the contemporary institution has deviated from its original design and purpose. This is not to suggest that deviations from the Framers’ original structure and purpose for the Senate are in some way illegitimate or undesirable simply because they do not reflect their intent. Rather, analyzing current procedural practice in the institution reveals the extent to which the Senate no longer performs one of the important, though less frequently acknowledged, functions assigned to it by the Framers. Such recognition necessarily improves our understanding of the multifaceted ways in which our political system may be broken.

The Problem of Credible Commitment in Congressional Budgeting

Journal of Policy History: Vol. 27, no. 2 (2015): 382-403


This article examines the effectiveness of multi-year budget process reforms in the U.S. Congress. Examining the recent history of these budget agreements enables us to determine whether or not it is realistic to count on their projected savings in the future simply because the law technically mandates them. Analyzing the Budget Enforcement Act of 1990 and the Budget Control Act of 2011, this article suggests that Congress is unable to credibly commit to fiscal restraint in the future. Specifically, the conscious inclusion of procedural mechanisms creating the capacity for future congresses to evade their budgetary controls is an obstacle to the efficient operation of those controls in the first place. This strongly suggests that the frequent use of such agreements in congressional decision-making in recent years reflects unwillingness by current members to tie the hands of future congresses to the extent possible in order to achieve multi-year deficit reduction targets.

Parliamentary Rule: The U.S. Senate Parliamentarian and Institutional Constraints on Legislator Behavior

Journal of Legislative Studies: Volume 20(3) (2014): 380-405


This article analyses the extent to which institutional rules constrain member behaviour in the United States Senate by examining the evolution of its parliamentarian. Interestingly, the US Senate parliamentarian has received surprisingly little scholarly attention given the important role she performs in the legislative process. The subsequent analysis thus provides a new understanding of the parliamentarian’s role in the legislative process and the interplay between institutional rules and member behaviour in the Senate. To this end, the following analysis is situated within the context of the two primary theoretical approaches to understanding how institutional rules constrain member behaviour: path dependency and majoritarianism. These contrasting approaches provide expectations about the extent to which members will defer to the parliamentarian’s interpretation of Senate rules rather than exercising their own discretionary control over those rules. Examining the evolving relationship between the parliamentarian and individual members affirms the centrality of institutional rules as a constraint on member behaviour over the past several decades. Yet such an examination also yields two surprising, and potentially contradictory, observations. First, individual senators in both parties have increasingly deferred to the parliamentarian to interpret the Senate’s rules. This is surprising given that the Senate has simultaneously become more individualistic, partisan, and ideological over the same period. Second, the majority party has recently disregarded the norm of parliamentary constraint reflected in past practice and demonstrated a willingness to ignore Senate rules when doing so was necessary to achieve legislative success. This could signify a potential shift in how majorities view the constraints imposed by Senate rules if current trends of legislative dysfunction continue. 

Unified Budget Accounting in the United States Congress: The Persistence of Government Deficits & Debt, 1967-2010,

The Forum: A Journal of Applied Research in Contemporary Politics: Vol. 9: Iss. 4 (2011)


The Congressional Budget Act of 1974 represented a bipartisan effort to contain unsustainable spending and restore fiscal discipline. Yet an examination of one aspect of the congressional budget process will demonstrate that it has all too often failed to contain the accumulation of government debt and impose fiscal discipline. This article argues that contrary to its intended design, the congressional budget process does not force a fundamental reevaluation of federal commitments during times of budgetary crisis. It demonstrates the ways in which the budget process allows senators of both political parties to avoid balancing the obligations of the federal government with the resources it commands when making politically difficult decisions. In its examination of the congressional budget process, the article highlights the potential role political scientists can play in formulating procedures that can meet the future challenges presented by persistent budgetary deficits.