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From dKosopedia

In government, bicameralism is the practice of having two legislative or parliamentary chambers. Thus, a bicameral legislature or bicameral parliament is a legislature or parliament which consists of two Chambers or Houses.


Although the ideas on which bicameralism is based can be traced back to the theories developed in ancient Greece and ancient Rome, recognisable bicameral institutions first arose in medieval Europe where they were associated with separate representation of different estates of the realm.

The Founding Fathers of the United States eschewed any notion of separate representation for a social aristocracy, but they accepted the prevailing disposition towards bicameralism. However, as part of the Great Compromise between large states and small states, they invented a new rationale for bicameralism in which the upper house would have states represented equally and the lower house would have them represented by population.

In subsequent constitution making, federal states have invariably adopted bicameralism, and the solution remains popular when regional differences or sensitivities require more explicit representation, with the second chamber representing the constitutent states. Nevertheless, the older justification for second chambers – providing opportunities for second thoughts about legislation – has survived. A trend towards unicameralism in the 20th century appears now to have been halted.

Growing awareness of the complexity of the notion of representation and the multifunctional nature of modern legislatures may be affording incipient new rationales for second chambers, though these do generally remain contested institutions in ways that first chambers are not. An example of political controversy regarding a second chamber has been the debate over the powers of the Canadian Senate, which is formally co-equal, but in custom and practice exercises very little real power in deferrence to the fact that its members are appointed rather than elected. There has beeen an effort, mostly by thinly populated Western provinces to give it a greater role in government.

The relationship between the two chambers varies; in some cases, they have equal power, while in others, one chamber is clearly superior in its powers. The first tends to be the case in federal systems and those with presidential governments. The latter tends to be the case in unitary states with parliamentary systems.

Some political scientists believe that bicameralism makes meaningful political reforms more difficult to achieve and increases the risk of deadlock (particularly in cases where both chambers have similar powers). Others argue strongly for the merits of the 'checks and balances' provided by the bicameral model, which they believe helps prevent the passage into law of ill-considered legislation. For example, if two political parties are very evenly balanced, it is not uncommon for one party to control one house of the legislature, and another party to control the other house. A number of U.S. States currently have split party control of the legislature, and the United State Congress has had this state of affairs in the past.

A particular risk of bicameralism is that almost all legislature is adopted in final form by a closed door conference committee between the two legislative bodies with no "fingerprints" of the responsible legislator, rather than in the deliberative process of Parliamentary Procedure on the floor of a legislative body. This often provides an opportunity to insert pork into legislation and to adopt provisions that did not have support in either legislative chamber prior to the meeting of the conference committee. Because conference committee proposals typically cannot be amended, this leaves legsilators with a Hobson's choice in voting on such legislation, even if they are aware of the pork and other negative provisions inserted in conference committee (which is often, itself, not the case).


Some countries, such as the United States, India, Brazil, and Germany, link their bicameral systems to their federal political structure.

In the United States and Brazil, for example, each state is given a set number of seats in the legislature's upper house. This takes no account of population differences between states — it is designed to ensure that smaller states are not overshadowed by more populous ones. (In the United States, the deal that ensured this arrangement is known as the Connecticut Compromise). In the lower houses of each country, these provisions do not apply, and seats are won based purely on population. The bicameral system, therefore, is a method of combining the principle of democratic equality with the principle of federalism — all votes are equal in the lower houses, while all states are equal in the upper houses.

In the Indian and German systems, the upper houses (the Rajya Sabha and the Bundesrat, respectively) are even more closely linked with the federal system, being appointed or elected directly by the governments of each Indian State or German Bundesland.

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This page was last modified 18:41, 4 July 2006 by Chad Lupkes. Based on work by Andrew Oh-Willeke and dKosopedia user(s) Lestatdelc. Content is available under the terms of the GNU Free Documentation License.

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