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

Humanitas: Vol. XXVII, no. 1 (2014): 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.