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Debate Defends Democracy: Senate Power v. The Majority

In recent decades, minority rule in the Senate has increasingly subverted the will of the people. Experts discuss the origins of this imbalance and potential solutions.

This is a virtual event
  • John Avlon
  • ,
  • Victoria Bassetti
  • Norman Ornstein
Senate Power v. The Majority

Moderator John Avlon is joined by Norman Ornstein and Brennan Center Fellow Victoria Bassetti to discuss the distortion of power and representation in the U.S. Senate and its impact on American democracy.

With increasing frequency over the past two decades, the political preferences of a majority of Americans have been subverted in the legislative process by the will of a shrinking minority. This inequity is particularly stark in the institution of the U.S. Senate, which first convened under the new Constitution at Federal Hall on March 4, 1789.

To balance power in the central government, the “Grand Compromise” at the Constitutional Convention had agreed that both the most populous and least populous states would each have two senators. One of the contemporary impacts is that the Senate is increasingly stymied in passing major legislation even when supported by a majority of Americans.

This program will explore the framer’s intent for the Senate; the historical and political circumstances that have contributed to this imbalance; the effects of this distortion of representation on the health of our democracy; and areas for potential reform, from expanded statehood to an overhaul of institutional rules. Federal Hall’s Sam Roberts will introduce the topic with a historical perspective.

DEBATE DEFENDS DEMOCRACY is presented by the National Parks of New York Harbor Conservancy at Federal Hall in partnership with New York University and the National Park Service.

• Norman Ornstein, Emeritus Scholar, American Enterprise Institute; Contributing Writer, The Atlantic; Contributing Editor and Columnist, National Journal
• Victoria Bassetti, Former Counsel, Sens. Dick Durbin and John Edwards; Author, Electoral Dysfunction: A Survival Manual for American Voters
• Moderator, John Avlon, Senior Political Analyst, CNN

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