Why No Parliaments in the United States?

Blue Blogistan is having a good laugh over the Republican Senate nominee in Montana, Bob Kelleher, who is a former Independent, and Green, and Democrat, 84 years old, and has been running with no success under the Big Sky literally for decades now. Fair enough. But people really seem to think Kelleher’s main platform is a stitch: he wants to replace the legislative-executive separation of powers with a parliamentary form of government.

Of course that would require a transformation of the Constitution. Only the Bushies know how to do that. Ha, ha.

But it’s not misplaced to wonder why Kelleher’s idea is so crazy on the state level. States change their constitutions all the time: here in California, we do it practically once a year via initiatives. And state charters have all kinds of provisions totally foreign to the US Constitution: directly elected Attorneys General and other executive offices, spending limitations, enmerated privacy and education rights, even a unicameral legislature in Nebraska.

Never, however, has any state moved toward a parliamentary system. And it’s not clear why. Around the world, this system not only is far more common than a Presidential one (such as in the US and Latin America), it’s also been much more successful. Parliamentary democracies have a much better record in severely divided societies than Presidential ones–often in countries with far worse conditions on the ground than in Presidential countries.

Republicans shouldn’t scoff: if the US had had a parliamentary system, then they might still be running the show. They would have ditched Bush after Katrina, replaced him with a Republican with solid credentials, and kept going.

But at the state level, it’s still something of a mystery why it never seems to have been proposed, and people like Kelleher are ridiculed. And if he wins, we get rid of Max Baucus. Not so crazy at all!

Author: Jonathan Zasloff

Jonathan Zasloff teaches Torts, Land Use, Environmental Law, Comparative Urban Planning Law, Legal History, and Public Policy Clinic - Land Use, the Environment and Local Government. He grew up and still lives in the San Fernando Valley, about which he remains immensely proud (to the mystification of his friends and colleagues). After graduating from Yale Law School, and while clerking for a federal appeals court judge in Boston, he decided to return to Los Angeles shortly after the January 1994 Northridge earthquake, reasoning that he would gladly risk tremors in order to avoid the average New England wind chill temperature of negative 55 degrees. Professor Zasloff has a keen interest in world politics; he holds a PhD in the history of American foreign policy from Harvard and an M.Phil. in International Relations from Cambridge University. Much of his recent work concerns the influence of lawyers and legalism in US external relations, and has published articles on these subjects in the New York University Law Review and the Yale Law Journal. More generally, his recent interests focus on the response of public institutions to social problems, and the role of ideology in framing policy responses. Professor Zasloff has long been active in state and local politics and policy. He recently co-authored an article discussing the relationship of Proposition 13 (California's landmark tax limitation initiative) and school finance reform, and served for several years as a senior policy advisor to the Speaker of California Assembly. His practice background reflects these interests: for two years, he represented welfare recipients attempting to obtain child care benefits and microbusinesses in low income areas. He then practiced for two more years at one of Los Angeles' leading public interest environmental and land use firms, challenging poorly planned development and working to expand the network of the city's urban park system. He currently serves as a member of the boards of the Santa Monica Mountains Conservancy (a state agency charged with purchasing and protecting open space), the Los Angeles Center for Law and Justice (the leading legal service firm for low-income clients in east Los Angeles), and Friends of Israel's Environment. Professor Zasloff's other major activity consists in explaining the Triangle Offense to his very patient wife, Kathy.