Gerrymandering• Gerrymandering is a form of redistricting in which electoral districts boundaries aredeliberately modified for electoral purposes, thereby producing a contorted or unusualshape.• negative: when used to allege that a party is gaining disproportionate power – packingdistricts with hardcore support form one party, creating wasted votes.• positive: producing a proportion of constituencies with an African-American or otherminority in the majority (these are then called "minority-majority districts").
Social Representation• Although there has been a significant increase since the 1980s, women onlymake up 16% of both houses of Congress.• Representatives from ethnic minority backgrounds make up less than 7%(though more in House than Senate due to redistricting)• Many come from wealthy backgrounds with a large proportion of Senatorsbeing former lawyers, and the average age of a Senator is 60 years old.
Pork barrel projects• Members ofCongress oftenearmarkbills, loading themwith amendments inorder to please the‘folks back home’.Alaska’s ‘Bridge toNowhere’, and thepork added toObama’s 2009Economic Stimulusbill being chiefexamples.
Committee Chairs• Once overlypowerful, with manypast their ‘sell bydate’, chairs are nowsubject to term limitsof 6 years. This has ledto:• Loss of expertise• Intra-party squabbles• Musical chairs• Presidential – chairrelationships are morefluid.
Ethical ProblemsMedia focus onscandals rather thanachievements:• James Traficant jailedfor bribery• Blagojevich expelledfor trying to sellObama’s Senate seatand• Gary Condit suspectedof unsolved murder.This does much toincrease scepticismassociated with publicservice in US politics.
Ineffective oversight of the executivebranch• Academics suggest that it isonly when the executive andlegislature are controlled bydifferent parties thatscrutiny is truly effective. Ifnot, Congress is in danger ofturning from a watchdog intoa lapdog.• But even under dividedgovernment oversight oftenlooks more like personalattacks and vindictiveness(Clinton impeachment andthe Starr report) thaneffective scrutiny of theexecutive and nominations
Abuse of the filibuster• In 6 years between 1995-2001Clinton only got around 73% ofhis judicial nominationsconfirmed.• For the first time (in 2003) theminority party in the Senateused the filibuster againstnominees that had alreadygained a recommendatory‘yes’ vote from the SenateJudiciary Committee. Bushsaid this was ‘an abdication ofconstitutional responsibility’.