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LEGISLATURES

THE FUNCTIONS OF LEGISLATURES

A legislature is defined as a collection of individuals who are elected as members of the formal parliamentary bodies prescribed by national and state constitutions. The functions of the legislature, at both the federal and the state levels, are numerous. Of course, the hallmark of legislative bodies is their lawmaking function, and Chapter 4 examines this function is carried out. Yet, lawmaking takes up only a portion of the legislature’s time. Legislative bodies are also engaged in conflict management and integrative functions.

Conflict Management Functions

Even though conflict management is part of both the administrative and the judicial subsystems, the legislature may be distinguished by the extent to which compromise, as a mode of conflict management, is institutionalized in the system.

The conflict management functions of legislative bodies can be seen in the context of their deliberative, decisional, and adjudicative activities (Jewell and Patterson, 1986). Frequently, legislative bodies deliberate without arriving at a decision or taking action. However, the deliberation process itself and the rules under which it occurs contribute to the reconciliation of divergent interests. In addition to formal debates, deliberation is carried on in the hearing rooms, in the offices of legislators, or in the lobbies or cloakrooms surrounding the chambers. At times, these informal deliberations are more important for they provide an opportunity to incorporate a variety of viewpoints and interests.

Legislative bodies also routinely undertake some adjudicative tasks (Melling, 1994).

For example, the work of some legislative committees has been adjudicative, as when hearings before investigating committees have been, in effect, trials during the course of which sanctions have been applied. A celebrated and classic example of the application of sanctions by the Senate for the violation of its norms occurred in the 1950s and involved Senator Joseph McCarthy of Wisconsin, who has been called “America’s most hated Senator” (Herman, 2000). As chairperson of the Permanent Subcommittee on Investigations of the Committee on Government Operations, McCarthy charged that Communists had infiltrated important positions in the U.S. Government. In December 1954, the Senate voted to censure McCarthy for his conduct—not for indiscriminately accusing people of being Communists and abusing the investigatory powers of Congress, but for attacking the integrity of the Senate itself.

 
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