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The Senate

From White Supremacy to Governmental Gridlock
Daniel Wirls

BUY Cloth · 278 pp. · 6 × 9 · ISBN 9780813946894 · $95.00 · Oct 2021
BUY Ebook · 278 pp. · ISBN 9780813946917 · $27.50 · Oct 2021
BUY Paper · 278 pp. · 6 × 9 · ISBN 9780813946900 · $34.50 · Oct 2021

In this lively analysis, Daniel Wirls examines the Senate in relation to our other institutions of government and the constitutional system as a whole, exposing the role of the "world’s greatest deliberative body" in undermining effective government and maintaining white supremacy in America.

As Wirls argues, from the founding era onward, the Senate constructed for itself an exceptional role in the American system of government that has no firm basis in the Constitution. This self-proclaimed exceptional status is part and parcel of the Senate’s problematic role in the governmental process over the past two centuries, a role shaped primarily by the combination of equal representation among states and the filibuster, which set up the Senate’s clash with modern democracy and effective government and has contributed to the contemporary underrepresentation of minority members. As he explains, the Senate’s architecture, self-conception, and resulting behavior distort rather than complement democratic governance and explain the current gridlock in Washington, D.C. If constitutional changes to our institutions are necessary for better governance, then how should the Senate be altered to be part of the solution rather than part of the problem? This book provides one answer.


Wirls takes a hard look at the Senate, past and present. Steeped in deep institutional knowledge, he analyzes how the Senate’s small size, base of apportionment, and rules of procedure distort congressional representation--particularly around issues of race--and bias national government toward policy deadlock. Wirls exposes institutional myths and challenges readers to rethink and reform the Senate’s role in the American constitutional system.

Frances Lee, Princeton University · Insecure Majorities: Congress and the Perpetual Campaign

Thought-provoking and well-researched, this chronicle of the Senate’s shortcomings is a stark assessment of the chamber as a bastion of support for white supremacy. Wirls tells an effective story of how an institution that has been highly touted, particularly by those occupying it, is really an impediment to effective democracy, and he makes a cogent case for reform.

David J. Siemers, University of Wisconsin Oshkosh, author of The Myth of Coequal Branches: Restoring the Constitution’s Separation of Functions, University of Wisconsin Oshkosh, author of The Myth of Coequal Branches: Restoring the Constitution’s Separation of Functions

About the Author(s): 

Daniel Wirls is Professor of Politics at the University of California, Santa Cruz, and author, with Stephen Wirls, of The Invention of the United States Senate.

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