The legislative system in the United States is designed to encompass varied interests and produce legislation that represents a compromise among them. Legislative System in the United States Democracy is based on the notion that a people should be self-governing and that the representatives of the people should be held accountable for their actions. The legislature, which represents… Read More »

The legislative system in the United States is designed to encompass varied interests and produce legislation that represents a compromise among them. Legislative System in the United States Democracy is based on the notion that a people should be self-governing and that the representatives of the people should be held accountable for their actions. The legislature, which represents the people and acts as their agent, is therefore at the core of the Western democratic tradition. In a...

The legislative system in the United States is designed to encompass varied interests and produce legislation that represents a compromise among them.

Legislative System in the United States

Democracy is based on the notion that a people should be self-governing and that the representatives of the people should be held accountable for their actions. The legislature, which represents the people and acts as their agent, is therefore at the core of the Western democratic tradition.

In a simple sense, a legislature makes laws. The Oxford English Dictionary defines a legislature as “a body of persons invested with the power of making the laws of a country or state.”

The first and foremost characteristic of a legislature is its intrinsic link to the citizens of the nation or state–representation. As John Stuart Mill wrote in 1862, in a representative democracy the legislature acts as the eyes, ears, and voice of the people:

“The proper office of a representative assembly is to watch and control the government: to throw the light of publicity on its acts, to compel a full exposition and justification of all of them which anyone considers questionable; to censure them if found condemnable. In addition to this, the Parliament has an office…to be at once the nation’s Committee of Grievances, and its Congress of Opinions.”[1]

The U.S. system was set up the way it was in part as a reaction against the British parliamentary system. The framers of the U.S. Constitution derived the concept of representative government from the social-contract theories of John Locke and other political philosophers that held that legitimate authority ought to be based on the consent of the governed.

The legislature in a parliamentary system is a parliament; the legislature in a presidential system is a congress. Although the distinction goes beyond mere names, the names do reflect some of the differences. As political scientist James Q. Wilson has pointed out, the root of the word parliament is the French word “parler” (to talk), whereas the root of the word congress is the Latin “congressus” (to come together or assemble).[2]

The legislative system in the United States is designed to encompass varied interests and produce legislation that represents a compromise among them. When the legislature is dominated by one party and the executive held by the other–as has been the case in the United States since 1987–bipartisan support of legislation is usually necessary to pass a bill. (In the U.S. case, the president has the power to veto legislation and can be overridden only by a two-thirds majority in each house of Congress).[3]

Section 1 of the Constitution of USA states that “All legislative Powers herein granted shall be vested in a Congress of the United States, which shall consist of a Senate and House of Representatives”

Bicameralism

By providing for a National Legislature of two Houses, the Framers, deliberately or adventitiously, served several functions. Examples of both unicameralism and bicameralism abounded.

From the beginning of the Convention, in the Virginia Plan, a two-house Congress was called for. The Great Compromise, one of the critical decisions leading to successful completion of the Convention, resolved the dispute about the national legislature by providing for a House of Representatives apportioned on population and a Senate in which the States were equally represented. The first function served, thusly, was federalism.[4]

Coextensively important, however, was the separation-of-powers principle served. The legislative power, the Framers both knew and feared, was predominant in a society dependent upon the suffrage of the people, and it was important to have a precaution against the triumph of transient majorities. Hence, the Constitution’s requirement that before lawmaking could be carried out bills must be deliberated in two Houses, their Members beholden to different constituencies, was in pursuit of this observation from experience.[5]

Events since 1787, of course, have altered both the separation-of-powers and the federalism bases of bicameralism, in particular the adoption of the Seventeenth Amendment resulting in the popular election of Senators, so that the differences between the two Chambers are today less pronounced.

Difference between Senate and House of Representatives

The US Congress is composed of the House of Representatives and the Senate, which differ in representation, term length, power, and prestige.

  1. The Senate represents large and small states equally with two senators per state; while each state’s share of the 435 representatives in the House is determined by its population. Because members of the House of Representatives have two-year term lengths, they are typically more responsive to their constituents’ concerns than senators, who have six-year terms. Senators cannot ignore their constituents, however, as one-third of the Senate is up for reelection every two years.
  2. All bills that raise money must originate in the House of Representatives. The House has the power to impeach (formally accuse) while the Senate tries impeachments. In addition, the Senate approves treaties and certain presidential appointments, such as ambassadors and Supreme Court Justices.[6]
  3. Debate procedures are typically less formal in the smaller Senate compared to those of the larger House of Representatives. Shorter term-lengths in the House can make representatives more sensitive to constituent concerns than Senators, and less likely to form bipartisan coalitions in support of the legislation as a result.
  4. Both Houses of Congress have different enumerated powers (those explicitly stated in the Constitution) as well as implicit powers (not stated in the Constitution but assumed in order to carry out enumerated powers).
  5. The Senate represents large and small states equally with two senators per state; while each state’s share of the 435 representatives in the House is determined by its population. Because members of the House of Representatives have two-year term lengths, they are typically more responsive to their constituents’ concerns than senators, who have six-year terms. Senators cannot ignore their constituents, however, as one-third of the Senate is up for reelection every two years.

Although the two chambers of Congress are separate, for the most part, they have an equal role in the enactment of the legislation, and there are several aspects of the business of Congress that the Senate and the House of Representatives share and that require common action.

Conclusion

From this brief overview, it should be apparent that the legislature is a necessary ingredient for democratic governance in the complex societies of the modern world. Legislatures represent a permanent and independent link between the populace and the government. Through elections, petitions, lobbying, and participation in political parties and interest groups, citizens can express their will and affect the outcomes of the legislative process.


[1] Valeo, Francis R., and Charles E. Morrison, Eds. The Japanese Diet and the U.S. Congress. Boulder, Colorado: Westview Press, 1983.

[2] Ornstein, Norman J. The Role of the Legislature in Western Democracies. Washington, D.C.: American Enterprise Institute for Public Policy Research, 1981.

[3] Schwarz, John E., and L. Earl Shaw. The United States Congress in Comparative Perspective. Hinsdale, Illinois: The Dryden Press, 1976.

[4] THE FEDERALIST, No. 39 (J. Cooke ed. 1961), 250–257 (Madison)

[5] INS v. Chadha, 462 U.S. 919, 944–951 (1983)

[6] Oleszek, Walter J., Congressional Procedures and Policy Process, 9th Edition, Congressional Quarterly, Inc., 2013.


  1. Law Library: Notes and Study Material for LLB, LLM, Judiciary and Entrance Exams
  2. Legal Bites Academy – Ultimate Test Prep Destination
Updated On 2021-05-19T14:56:04+05:30
Meghana Reddy

Meghana Reddy

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