Document Type

Conference Paper

Publication Date


Publication Source

State Politics and Policy Conference 2015 Annual Meeting


The U.S. states have been characterized as “laboratories of democracy” for their ability to formulate public policies aimed at solving some of the most pressing public policy issues. The study of both public policy and legislative politics in the states has been quite robust. However, vitally missing from our understanding of policymaking and the legislative process in the states is the role of constitutional provisions. Many state constitutions contain directives that severely limit the ability of the legislature to act. Some of these directives are procedural while others are more substantive. This is relevant because constitutional rules are more difficult for members to alter than chamber rules and should lead us to question whether or not reform is needed. In previous research (Martorano Miller, Hamm and Hedlund 2009; 2010; 2011; 2014a; 2014b) we developed a quantitative measure of constitutional restrictiveness and explored current variation in this measure across the fifty state legislatures and the U.S. Congress. In this paper, we seek to expand upon our previous research by assessing provisions found in each state’s constitution in terms of the historical context surrounding the constitution’s adoption. We find that this “setting” has a significant impact on the constitutional provisions regarding the legislature’s powers restrictions and mandates. These features in turn create the “constraints” (a type of “cage”) limiting the legislature.

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