Sarah Binder

Sarah Binder is a senior fellow in governance studies at the Brookings Institution and professor of political science at George Washington University.

Recent Articles

Gerrymandering 101

The latest issue of Legislative Studies Quarterly contains a neat piece (ungated, here ) by Jason Kelly on the extent to which state legislators strategically use prison populations for partisan gain in redistricting at the state level. The ingenuity of state mapmakers knows no bounds. The census data used to redraw legislative districts counts the country’s nearly two million prisoners in the location of their incarceration, rather than their previous place of residence. By drawing these phantom populations into districts that lean heavily toward the majority party, legislators can free up eligible voters from those districts to be distributed among neighboring marginal ones, thereby increasing that party’s likelihood of winning additional seats in the state legislature. An analysis of state senate districts finds that prison populations shift systematically from districts controlled by one party to districts controlled by the other following a switch in partisan control.

When it rains, it pours: More on the Senate

The Forum’ s December issue, Governing through the Senate , is now available on-line. It offers eleven short, accessible pieces on the state of the Senate. An overview of the issue appears below: The Senate is often the institutional pivot for political conflict in the United States, so this issue of The Forum focuses on ‘governing through the Senate’. Charles O. Jones considers its inherent peculiarities as the institution meant to ‘go second’ in a separated system; Sarah Binder argues that the modern Senate is moving away from its constitutional role; Frances Lee considers the role of party competition in shaping senatorial behavior; Barry Burden asks about the influence of senatorial polarization and party balance within the bicameral context; and Daniel DiSalvo contrasts partisan polarization with divided government as influences on senatorial behavior. Randall Strahan observes one particular senator negotiating this complicated framework; Wendy Schiller and Jennifer Cassidy...

Is the president playing fair during recess? The Cordray appointment

President Obama today will give a recess appointment to Richard Cordray to serve as director of the new Consumer Financial Protection Bureau established under Dodd-Frank. With Senate Republicans vowing to oppose any nominee absent structural reform of the CFPB , a Republican filibuster last month blocked the Senate from securing cloture on Cordray’s nomination. Because recess appointments last until the end of the “next session,” Cordray’s appointment would last until the end of 2013. Republicans immediately cried foul, with Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell arguing that the recess appointment “threatens the confirmation process and fundamentally endangers the Congress’s role in providing a check on the excesses of the executive branch.” Speaker John Boehner called the move a “power grab,” and McConnell warned that the move took the White House into “uncertain legal territory.” Republican consternation stems from the nature of the intra-session recess during which the president...

In Memoriam: The Conference Committee

Following Jordan’s excellent post , a few more thoughts about conference committees. The House this afternoon approved a motion to go to conference with the Senate to resolve chamber differences over the payroll tax cut bills. Although the Speaker has repeatedly referred to conference committees as “regular order,” avid Congress watchers might disagree. Donald Wolfensberger (a former Republican staff director of the House Rules Committee) put it best a few years ago when he asked: “Have House-Senate Conferences Gone The Way of the Dodo?” Indeed, in recent years, party leaders have increasingly favored alternative methods for reconciling bicameral differences. More often than going to conference, Congress increasingly relies on informal negotiations between party leaders or an exchange of amendments between the two chambers (known as “ping pong”) to reach agreement. Why are conference committees going extinct? As is lately often the case, partisan polarization shoulders much of the...