The Senate Problem

There is no legislature in the world with an institutional framework more beneficial to minorities than the US Senate. The trouble is, the US Senate is almost entirely devoid of minorities. This can and needs to be fixed, and its solution is also the only true solution to gerrymandering.

WORKING PAPER - MARCH 2018

Introduction

The US Senate is one of the only legislative bodies in the world that contains provisions to protect minorities (both racial and political).

Unlike the House or Parliaments in Europe, the US Senate often relies on unanimous consent agreements (UCAs) for the passage and agenda setting for many important bills and amendments. Like the name implies, a UCA means that legislation can be (and often is) derailed by the wishes of just one member. And a rogue Senator’s ‘hold’ can create pressure on the actions and decisions not just of the Senate, but also the House and the Executive Branch.

Minorities benefit in the Senate in other ways as well. The Senate requires a super-majority (60-40 split) for the passage of many of their of their votes. This means that the minority (or a coallition of minority members) now need to muster only 40 votes (not 50) to force the majority to bargain. And, most famously, the Senate has the filabuster, which allows a single Senator to hold the floor for extended periods of time to push their agenda. Once again, this means that a lone Senator (or just a handful of members) can throw a wrench into the design and passage of any bill. Compare this to the House where single congressmen (or even large groups of minority members) are all but powerless.

States Rights vs Civil Rights

The trouble is, the US Senate is one of the least diverse institutions in government, and even one of the least diverse institutions anywhere. The numbers are grim. While the nation has well over 35% minority citizens (13% black, 19% latino, 6% asian), the Senate is always well over 90% white. But, this should not be taken as a slight to minority candidates. Indeed, the Senate's racial (and political) uniformity is assured via a mistaken approach to voting which we now understand (called single-member districts). And the solution (multi-member districts) has been applied successfully in other countries, and provides a significantly more representative institution immediately. Shockingly, the data suggests that minorities, given equal treatment via voting, prove to be more successful candidates than whites.

Indeed in a time with so much racial turmoil, it is mystifying how the Senate receives a free pass from the media. The Senate (unlike the House) has the keys to not just to the Supreme Court but dozens of other courts and justices throughout the nation. In shorty, they determine what type of justice exists in the USA. But because of a simple mathematical mistake the founders unwittingly made 250 years ago, the Senate has perpetuated inequality, illegitimacy and likely even racism. It is a mistake that needs to be fixed.

Those who support efforts at limiting gerrymandering are often white-machine liberals. And this is for good reason. Despite all the talk about gerrymandering, the US Senate (and not the House) is the government's least representative (diverse) body by a wide margin. This is especially peculiar because the Senate cannot be gerrymandered. The electoral borders between the USA's 50 individual states are not up for simple negotiation. Still, the US Senate is significantly less diverse, not just compared to the House, but also to nearly any other institution or private industry in the US.

Video

This 35 minute CRI video shows the problem of representation in the Senate. Produced in 2015 it is great introduction to the problem and the solution.

The Devil in Democracy