What Ended Congressional Centrism?
Yesterday, we brought you an item from The Washington Post about how the middle in Congress is no more. Today the paper attempts to explain why that’s the case. Many people argue that gerrymandering—the practice of forming districts to make it more likely that a certain party retains control of them—is the reason that polarization has increased. It’s an attractive argument, but does not account for all the facts. For instance, the Senate has become more polarized, even though there’s nothing to gerrymander. Other potential causes of polarization include the fact that the parties agree on less and less; the fact that people choose to live among those who think like them; and the fact that the South has shifted from the Democratic Party to the Republican Party over the past 40 years or so. “NO one thing killed the ideological middle in Congress. It died a death of 1,000 cuts. But, that doesn’t change the fact that it’s dead — and with little hope of being revived, at least any time soon”, Chris Cillizza concludes.
…But Bipartisanship Still Possible
Although the parties no longer overlap in Congress, individual Members of Congress can still work across the aisle. Republican Senator Bob Corker of Tennessee knows all about that. Elected in 2006, Senator Corker has steadily developed a reputation for working with Democrats on a number of key issues, like foreign affairs and reform of the financial sector. He has also criticized Tea Party elements among the Republicans. At the same time, Senator Corker does not consider himself a centrist. “You look at the things you do here and you’ve gotta say we don’t do a lot of political calculations. We try to call ’em like we see ’em”, the Senator told Politico reporters.
Court: You Sued the Wrong People in Filibuster Suit
Some time ago, Common Cause, an organization “working for political change in America”, filed an appeal of lawsuit with DC Circuit Court of Appeals charging that the filibuster is unconstitutional. On Tuesday, the Court rejected the appeal because the defendants were not responsible for the damage the plaintiffs claimed to have suffered. Common Cause filed suit against Vice President Joe Biden (qua President of the Senate) and the Senate Parliamentarian, Secretary and Sergeant-at-Arms. (One wonders how these reacted when they learned they were named as defendants.) The opinion notes that Common Cause “does not identify anything the defendants did (or refrained from doing) to cause its alleged injuries” and that it “is hard to imagine how any of the defendants bore responsibility” for the sinking of certain bills. The Court said that they should have sued sitting Senators, which would be a non-starter, because the Constitution protects Members of Congress from legal action as concerning their legislative deliberations, per the Speech or Debate Clause.
Fixing the Voting Rights Act
Last year, the Supreme Court ruled that parts of the Voting Rights Act, a law aimed at ensuring all Americans would have access to the polls, were unconstitutional, meaning Congress has had to find a way to achieve its ends within the bounds of the Constitution. Representative James Sensenbrenner of Wisconsin has been working with Democrats in both Chambers to find solutions palatable to both parties, but their work is facing some opposition to the right and left. The Voting Rights Act provides for greater Federal oversight of election practices in jurisdictions that have historically practiced racial discrimination, drawing criticism from Southern conservatives. On the other hand, some Democrats are concerned about provisions acknowledging voter ID requirements or that not enough states are face heightened Federal scrutiny. Despite some delays in passing the Voting Rights Act fixes, Representative Sensenbrenner told The Hill that he was confident the deal would pass by the year’s end.
And for our latest post: Cracks in the Senatorial Saucer: Filling the Tree, Cloture, and Curtailing Senate Debate