Category Archives: Politics

Civil Rights Enforcement in the Most Dangerous Branch

Source: Catherine Y. Kim, University of North Carolina (UNC) at Chapel Hill – School of Law, UNC Legal Studies Research Paper No. 2480134, August 13, 2014

From the abstract:
For decades, civil rights scholars have debated the relative institutional competencies of federal courts and administrative agencies in vindicating civil rights violations. Doctrinal developments diminishing the role of federal courts, however, render this comparison increasingly irrelevant. The scholarly focus must shift from the question of institutional choice, i.e., whether the judiciary is better suited than agencies to combat civil rights violations, to one of institutional design, i.e., how to design federal agencies to facilitate meaningful enforcement.

Skepticism toward administrative enforcement of civil rights reflects a fear that the President, as head of the executive branch, will manipulate – or subvert – agencies’ enforcement efforts for partisan ends, thereby raising broader separation-of-powers concerns. This article develops a framework for assessing how a given agency’s institutional design shapes the legal, political, and structural constraints to presidential policymaking discretion, and how these constraints vary depending on whether the policy is implemented through notice-and-comment rulemaking, the issuance of interpretive guidance, or the strategic exercise of prosecutorial discretion in enforcement proceedings. Given agencies’ freedom to choose between policymaking tools, this structure creates incentives for an administration to channel policy decisions – particularly controversial ones – through certain tools precisely to circumvent constraints on its discretion. This analysis carries important implications beyond the civil rights context, offering insights into enforcement debates across regulatory contexts, including the current debate over administrative relief for undocumented aliens.

The Interest Group Top Tier: More Groups, Concentrated Clout

Source: Lee Drutman, Matt Grossmann, Tim LaPira, APSA 2014 Annual Meeting Paper, 2014

From the abstract:
Recent research on influence has produced seemingly contradictory findings. On the one hand, some scholars have shown that on any given issue, economic resources show little relationship to the likelihood of policy success (Baumgartner et al. 2009). Yet, other scholars have found that policy outcomes match the preferences of the top interest groups and the well-off much better than the average citizen (Gilens 2012). This paper offers an empirical resolution to this puzzle by closely examining the advocacy activities of the top tier of interest groups in Washington. As the total population of interest organizations has increased beyond the capacity of the government to pay attention to all of them, the select few at the top — mostly business interests — have concentrated their resources toward maintaining their privileged status as major players. Using a new data set of 37,706 unique interest groups who reported lobbying between 1998 and 2012, we show that the organizations at the top in lobbying expenditures, number of lobbyists, and number of firms and staff, increasingly retain their privileged positions — but need to pay more to do so. We document lobbying activity trends for those organizations at the top of the extremely unequally distributed lobbying population. We find that organizations at the top in one year pay more to stay at the topeach successive year, even if that means shifting their issue agenda to whatever is on the minds of Congress.
How the Lobbying Top Tier explains an influence paradox
Source: Lee Drutman, Matt Grossmann, Tim LaPira, Sunlight Foundation blog, August 26, 2014

Partisan Politics and Income Tax Rates

Source: William E. Foster, University of Arkansas Research Paper No. 14-17, March 27, 2013 (Last revised: August 11, 2014)

From the abstract:
With income tax reform dominating so much of the current political discourse, now is an optimal time for tax scholars to reflect on the lessons and trends from a century of legislative tinkering with the primary revenue-generating device in the United States. Tax rate changes do not occur in a vacuum, and this article explores one increasingly prominent and often overlooked ingredient in the mixture of variables that can produce or inhibit tax reform ― partisan politics. It does so by comparing individual income tax rates with partisan control of federal political bodies. This article reviews majority party status in the House of Representatives and the Senate, and control of the presidency at times of revisions to top marginal tax rates applicable to various income groups, and notes larger rate trends in the parties’ respective eras of most significant influence. Despite the limitations inherent in isolating a single influential factor, the data analyzed in this article provides strong support for the following trends: higher income earners are the tax rate battleground for party policy implementation; a vast political mandate represented by control of the House, Senate, and presidency is usually necessary to accomplish significant rate revisions; when a sufficient political mandate is achieved, the parties’ implementation of rate changes follows their respective rhetorical associations; and in the end, absent armed conflict or economic crisis, sizeable rate changes are exceptionally rare. These extractions from a century of legislative maneuvers bring scholars closer to unearthing the political recipe for tax rate reform, and accordingly, to a fuller understanding of the necessary components of tax policy implementation.

Implementing Reform: How Maryland & New York Ended Prison Gerrymandering

Source: Erika L. Wood, Dēmos, August 14, 2014

From the summary:
In 2010 and 2011, Maryland and New York took bold steps to correct the problem known as prison gerrymandering, a problem resulting from the United States Census Bureau’s practice of counting incarcerated individuals as residents of their prison cells rather than their home communities. When legislative districts are drawn based on the census numbers, incarcerated individuals become “ghost constituents” of districts that contain prisons. Although in forty-eight states incarcerated individuals cannot vote, have no ties to the local community, are often hundreds of miles from home, and spend an average of just three years in prison, they are allocated to legislative districts in a way that artificially inflates the political power of the districts where the prisons are located, while their home communities—often predominantly poor and minority—suffer the inverse effects of losing representation and voting strength for a decade.

Although the Census Bureau did not change its practice of counting incarcerated individuals in prison on a national level for the 2010 census, Maryland and New York took responsibility for correcting this injustice in their states. In doing so, these two states not only conducted an important experiment in policy innovation, but also demonstrated how various state and local agencies can work together to successfully implement new and important policy reforms to alleviate the problem of prison gerrymandering.

The efforts and coordination by state policymakers, corrections officials, data experts, technicians, planning personnel and lawyers was exemplary and should serve as an inspiration to those across the country who want to take a stand to end this injustice. As a result of their efforts and for the first time in history, the legislative and local districts in Maryland and New York are no longer distorted by prison gerrymandering.

This report provides detailed information about the specific steps Maryland and New York took to implement these new laws based on the 2010 census in conjunction with their redistricting schedules. It details the challenges each state faced as the first in the country to implement this reform—including legal disputes and data deficiencies—and the steps taken to meet and overcome those challenges. It also provides concrete recommendations, based on the experience and expertise of the actors in each state, to assist other jurisdictions in permanently ending prison gerrymandering.

Partisanship and Voter Confidence, 2000-2012

Source: Michael Sances, Charles Stewart III, Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) – Department of Political Science, MIT Political Science Department Research Paper No. 2014-8, June 1, 2014

From the abstract:
To what degree is voter confidence in election procedures driven by satisfaction with the outcome of an election, as opposed to trust in government or objective features of the polling place, such as voting technology? Using approximately 30 national surveys over the past decade, we find a consistent relationship between voting for the winner and confidence in election administration. This confidence varies as a function of question wording and electoral context. Respondents are more confident in the quality of the vote count locally than nationally. They are responsive to electoral results at the state and national levels in forming their judgments. And, rather than being influenced by different types of voting technology, respondents lose confidence by virtue of change itself.

The Relationship Between Short-Term Political Appointments and Bureaucratic Performance: The Case of Recess Appointments in the United States

Source: Susan M. Miller, Journal of Public Administration Research and Theory, First published online: August 11, 2014
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From the abstract:
Within the bureaucratic performance literature, a growing body of work focuses on the relationship between the character of an administrator’s selection—career administrators versus different types of appointees—and bureaucratic performance, finding that programs managed by political appointees are associated with lower performance scores than programs managed by career professionals. One aspect of administrators’ selection that has not been considered in connection with bureaucratic performance is whether the appointee was installed via recess appointment. Because their limited and uncertain tenures may cause administrative problems and because the unilateral nature of their selection may lead executives to prioritize other characteristics over competency, I theorize that recess appointees will be associated with lower program performance than non-recess appointees and careerists. Using Program Assessment Rating Tool scores from the George W. Bush administration, I find support for this expectation. This article contributes to our understanding of the ways in which staffing through recess appointments may shape government administration.

How to Increase Voter Turnout in Communities Where People Have Not Usually Participated in Elections

Source: Melissa R. Source: Michelson, Scholars Strategy Network, Key Findings, July 2014

Voter turnout among members of different groups of Americans varies widely, with Latinos and Asians generally lagging behind other groups. Blacks usually fall in between, with turnout usually ahead of other minorities but behind whites – although black participation surged in 2008 and 2012 in response to the historic candidacy of Barack Obama. Additional segments of the American public also vote less than they might, including lower-income citizens and youth. Low levels of voting matter, because election results are supposed to reflect the preferences of all Americans. In addition, recent trends indicate that Latinos, if they vote at their full potential, have considerable capacity to influence election outcomes, increasingly at the national as well as state and local level. Getting out the Latino vote was a crucial part of the Obama 2012 reelection strategy, and activists striving to boost Democratic Party prospects in Texas are spending tens of millions of dollars registering eligible Latinos. Understanding how to motivate voting by Latinos and other under-engaged citizens is thus of concern to candidates and parties as well as scholars….

How Medicaid Programs Run by the U.S. States Influence Citizens Participation

Source: Jamila Michener, Scholars Strategy Network, Key Findings, August 2014

In June 2012, the Supreme Court upheld the core of the Affordable Care Act but said that each state could decide whether or not to implement a core provision, the expansion of Medicaid to cover low-income people just above the poverty line. That judicial development triggered partisan battles over Medicaid expansion. More than two dozen states have agreed to take federal funds to enroll more people in Medicaid, but twenty-three states led by Republicans are so far refusing. As the battles rage on, the people we almost never hear from are those currently enrolled in Medicaid. Why? The easy answer is that many of those who utilize Medicaid are poor, and impoverished Americans participate less readily than others in elections and other arenas of democracy. But in addition to low levels of income and educational attainment, could there be something about Medicaid itself that discourages many beneficiaries from active political participation? My research looks into this question, asking how poor people’s experience of receiving Medicaid influences their political outlooks and participation in democratic citizenship. The findings are in many ways troubling – and they underscore the impact of varied experiences with Medicaid and associated social and institutional realities in different U.S. states….

How the American Labor Movement Can Counter “Right to Work” Campaigns against Unions

Source: Raymond Hogler, Scholars Strategy Network, Key Findings, July 2014

Union membership in the United States is declining and income inequality is rising – and most researchers see a connection. Growing income gaps over the past three decades may well be partly explained by the loss of bargaining power that organized labor exercised from the end of World War II until the election of President Ronald Reagan in 1980. Because unions have less leverage, wages stagnate even as economic productivity goes up. But why are American workers no longer able to organize into labor unions and strike to force employers to share the benefits of economic activity? Answering that question requires attention to political outlooks and efforts in the U.S. states as well as at the national level. …