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Bicameralism in Federal Systems: Three Different Approaches

Bicameralism in Federal Systems: Three Different Approaches

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Published by Shaun Alvis
Constitutional Design Seminar Paper
Constitutional Design Seminar Paper

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Published by: Shaun Alvis on Jul 02, 2013
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Alvis 1Bicameralism in Federal Systems: Three Different ApproachesShaun AlvisProfessor Sanford LevinsonConstitutional Design Seminar May 23, 2013
Alvis 2
I. Introduction
Of the 162 sovereign nations that currently exist, 122 have a unicamerallegislative body.
The remaining 51 have bicameral legislatures, featuring second houseswith varying power, composition, and prestige.
Of those 51 bicameral legislatures, 23are found in states that can be described as federal in nature.
These second houses haveincreasingly been in the news over the last few years. Norway, in 2009, abolished itsupper house-the Lagting-in favor of a unicameral system based on its former first house.
 In Italy, the Italian Senate was heavily in the news after the inability of a government thatwould have had a large majority in Italy's Chamber of Deputies to find a majority in theSenate led to a prolonged period of governmental instability.
 In the United Kingdom,there are continuing questions over the logic of a modern democratic state retaining a so-called House of Lords. While most parties in the U.K. House of Commons supportreform of the Lords, opposition and division within the governing coalition preventedaction on a recent bill.
Abolition is on the minds of many in Canada, as its unelected andmalapportioned Senate is gripped in the midst of its most serious scandal in decades andthe government runs into problems over its effort at reform.
In Germany, the Bundesrat-now controlled by the opposition- has sought to draw distinctions with Angela Merkel
1 "Senates and the Theory of Bicameralism," in
Senates: Bicameralism in the Contemporary World 
, ed.Samuel C. Patterson and Anthony Mughan (Columbus: Ohio State University Press, 1999), 22
3 "Forum of Federations - Federalism by Country," Forum of Federations - Federalism by Country,Accessed May 23, 2013, http://www.forumfed.org/en/federalism/federalismbycountry.php4 Håkon Gundersson, "Ett Ting Mindre," Morgenbladet, April 17, 2009, accessed May 23, 2013,http://morgenbladet.no/samfunn/2009/ett_ting_mindre5Elisabetta Povoledo, "Italian Lawmakers Elect Speakers, but Stable Government Remains Elusive," The New York Times, March 17, 2013, accessed May 23, 2013,http://www.nytimes.com/2013/03/17/world/europe/italian-lawmakers-elect-speakers-but-stability-is-elusive.html?_r=06Nicholas Watt, "Rebel Tories Scupper Motion for House of Lords Reform Bill," The Guardian, July 10,2012, accessed May 17, 2013, http://www.guardian.co.uk/politics/2012/jul/10/rebel-tories-motion-lords-reform7Nick Taylor-Vaisey, "How to Abolish the Senate of Canada," Macleans, May 23, 2013, accessed May23, 2013, http://www2.macleans.ca/2013/05/23/how-to-abolish-the-senate-of-canada/
Alvis 3and the Christian Democratic Union ahead of upcoming elections.
And finally in theUnited States the Senate remains a focal point in efforts to obstruct President Obama'sagenda with reform of its archaic rules a strong desire for many activists and Senators.
 This paper will examine the history and development of the concept of the upper house broadly before turning to examine in detail three different upper houses: theAmerican Senate, the German Bundestag, and the Canadian Senate by looking at their individual histories, composition, powers, and ways that each could be reformed.
II. A brief history of bicameralism
Legislative bodies of some sort have existed since pre-historic times. The RomanRepublic for instance, featured at least 4 distinct legislative bodies throughout itshistory.
 While the Roman Empire and its successor states broadly ignored andmarginalized legislative bodies
the rise of feudalism in medieval Europe saw thecreation of many of the ancestral legislatures of modern Europe.
These bodies often differed from the looser Roman legislative arrangement in thatthere were strict relations and rules set between the various bodies.
Many though werenot bi-cameral, instead they were multi-cameral bodies such as the tri-cameral EstatesGeneral of France (consisting of the First, Second, and Third Estates representing theclergy, nobility, and commoners respectively)
the tetra-cameral Riksdag of the
8"Bundesrat Bringt Gesetzesentwurf Zur Homo-Ehe in Den Bundestag Ein," SPIEGEL ONLINE, March22, 2013, accessed May 17, 2013, http://www.spiegel.de/politik/deutschland/bundesrat-bringt-gesetzesentwurf-zur-homo-ehe-in-den-bundestag-ein-a-890415.html9Sarah Binder, "Banning Filibusters: Is Nuclear Winter Coming to the Senate This Summer?," TheBrookings Institution, May 23, 2013, accessed May 23, 2013,http://www.brookings.edu/research/opinions/2013/05/23-reid-nuclear-senate-ban-filibuster-binder 10Klaus Bringmann,
 A History of the Roman Republic
(Cambridge, UK: Polity, 2007), 14, 45, 5, 8.11The Roman Senate, the
comitia curiata
, the
comitia tributa
, and the
comitia centuriata
.12P. A. Brunt, "The Role of the Senate in the Augustan Regime," The Classical Quarterly 34, no. 02(1984): 423, http://www.jstor.org/stable/63830013And in some cases the actual legislature. Iceland's Althing for example has existed in some form since930. (http://articles.latimes.com/2011/apr/02/world/la-fg-iceland-free-speech-20110403) The ManxTynwald has met continuously as a parliamentary body since approximately the 13
century.(http://www.tynwald.org.im/Pages/default.aspx)14Senates, 215William Doyle, "The Estates General," in
The Oxford History of the French Revolution
(Oxford: OxfordUniversity Press, 2002), 86-112.

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