History
Fact-checked

At HistoricalIndex, we're committed to delivering accurate, trustworthy information. Our expert-authored content is rigorously fact-checked and sourced from credible authorities. Discover how we uphold the highest standards in providing you with reliable knowledge.

Learn more...

What is a Bicameral Legislature?

A bicameral legislature divides the legislative branch of government into two separate chambers, typically a lower house and an upper house. This system allows for more thorough debate and review of proposed laws, balancing representation between different regions or groups. How might this structure impact the laws in your country? Explore the intricacies and implications with us.
L. S. Wynn
L. S. Wynn
L. S. Wynn
L. S. Wynn

In government, bicameralism is the practice of having two legislative or parliamentary chambers. The relationship between the two chambers of a bicameral legislature can vary. In some cases, they have equal power, and in others, one chamber is clearly superior to the other. It is commonplace in most federal systems to have a bicameral legislature. The United States, for example, has a bicameral legislature in which one chamber, the Senate, has an equal number of members representing each constituent state, and the members of the other chamber, the House of Representatives, number according to each state's population.

Some political scientists believe that having a bicameral legislature makes meaningful political reforms more difficult to achieve and increases the risk of deadlock. This risk is greater in cases when both chambers have equal powers. Other political analysts argue strongly for the merits of the checks and balances that are provided by the bicameral model, which they believe helps prevent ill-considered legislation from being passed into law.

The US Capitol Building, the seat of the US Congress.
The US Capitol Building, the seat of the US Congress.

As of 2011, more than 20 countries had bicameral legislatures. Many other countries have unicameral legislatures, which consist of single legislative houses. The term "bicameral" comes from Latin and combines bi, which means "two", with camera, which means "chamber." "Unicameral" substitutes uni, or "one," for bi.

Partial List of Countries That Have Bicameral Legislatures:

Country Type Legislative chambers
Afghanistan National Assembly Wolesi Jirga and Masharano Jirga
Australia Parliament House of Representatives and Senate
Canada Parliament House of Commons and Senate
France Parliament National Assembly and Senate
Germany no single term Bundestag and Bundesrat
India Parliament Lok Sabha (House of the People) and
Rajya Sabha (Council of States)
Mexico Congress Chamber of Deputies and Senate
Pakistan Parliament National Assembly and Senate
Republic of Ireland Oireachtas Dáil Éireann (House of Representatives) and
Seanad Éireann (Senate)
United Kingdom Parliament House of Commons and House of Lords
United States Congress House of Representatives and Senate

The U.S. Senate is one branch of the U.S. Congress.
The U.S. Senate is one branch of the U.S. Congress.

In addition, many regional or local legislative bodies also are bicameral. In the United States, for example, all of the state legislatures except Nebraska's are also bicameral. In Australia, all of the state parliaments except Queensland's are also bicameral.

Frequently Asked Questions

What is a bicameral legislature and how does it function?

A bicameral legislature is a lawmaking body composed of two separate chambers or houses, typically an upper house and a lower house. It functions through a process where both chambers must approve legislation before it becomes law. This system allows for checks and balances, as each house can scrutinize and amend proposed laws, ensuring diverse representation and preventing hasty legislative decisions. For example, in the United States, Congress consists of the Senate (upper house) and the House of Representatives (lower house), each with distinct roles and powers.

Why do countries choose a bicameral system over a unicameral one?

The Parliament of the United Kingdom, which meets in the Palace at Westminster, is composed of the House of Lords and the House of Commons.
The Parliament of the United Kingdom, which meets in the Palace at Westminster, is composed of the House of Lords and the House of Commons.

Countries opt for a bicameral system to provide a more complex system of checks and balances, to represent different interests within society, and to ensure thorough debate on legislation. For instance, one house might represent regional governments or states, as in the United States Senate, while the other represents the population at large, like the House of Representatives. This structure aims to prevent the concentration of power and to balance the interests of both the majority and minority groups within a country.

How are members of the two chambers in a bicameral legislature typically selected?

Mexico has a bicameral legislature with the Senate and Chamber of Deputies.
Mexico has a bicameral legislature with the Senate and Chamber of Deputies.

Members of the two chambers in a bicameral legislature are typically selected through different methods. In the United States, for example, members of the House of Representatives are elected directly by the people based on population, with elections every two years, while Senators are elected to represent their states with staggered six-year terms. This variation ensures that both the people's immediate choices and the states' long-term interests are considered in the legislative process.

Can you give examples of countries with bicameral legislatures?

Canada employs a bicameral Parliament with the Senate and House of Commons.
Canada employs a bicameral Parliament with the Senate and House of Commons.

Many countries around the world have bicameral legislatures. Notable examples include the United States, where Congress is divided into the Senate and the House of Representatives; the United Kingdom, with the House of Lords and the House of Commons; and India, where the Parliament consists of the Rajya Sabha (Council of States) and the Lok Sabha (House of the People). Each country's bicameral system is tailored to its specific political and historical context.

What are the advantages and disadvantages of a bicameral legislature?

Germany has a bicameral legislature.
Germany has a bicameral legislature.

The advantages of a bicameral legislature include better representation of diverse interests, more thorough vetting of legislation, and the prevention of abuse of power through checks and balances. However, disadvantages can include potential legislative gridlock, complexity and inefficiency in lawmaking, and the possibility of one chamber dominating the other. The effectiveness of a bicameral system often depends on how well it is designed to balance these competing considerations.

You might also Like

Discussion Comments

mrtao

Nigeria also has a bicameral legislature. It's called the National Assembly (Senate and House of Representatives).

anon108125

there's clearly a type-o in this, like in the middle (commonplace).

lightning88

Although I understand some of the disadvantages of a bicameral legislature, I really think that the advantages outweigh them.

For example, in a bicameral legislature you always have dissent. This can be a bad thing when it leads to filibustering and stalemate, but it also provides an excellent watchdog effect. Nobody watches a politician as closely as his rivals!

Another one of the advantages of bicameral legislature in the US is that it allows smaller stages to have an almost equal say with the bigger states.

By having a set number of Senate members, smaller states are appeased; and larger states are satisfied because they have more representatives.

yournamehere

Thank you so much for this article -- it was a great bicameral legislature definition, and I liked how it wasn't completely US focused. Well done!

cindydungca

in that case, why some other countries shift to unicameral from a bicameral. is unicameral better than the bicameral? why?

Post your comments
Login:
Forgot password?
Register:
    • The US Capitol Building, the seat of the US Congress.
      The US Capitol Building, the seat of the US Congress.
    • The U.S. Senate is one branch of the U.S. Congress.
      The U.S. Senate is one branch of the U.S. Congress.
    • The Parliament of the United Kingdom, which meets in the Palace at Westminster, is composed of the House of Lords and the House of Commons.
      By: Fyle
      The Parliament of the United Kingdom, which meets in the Palace at Westminster, is composed of the House of Lords and the House of Commons.
    • Mexico has a bicameral legislature with the Senate and Chamber of Deputies.
      By: Stocksnapper
      Mexico has a bicameral legislature with the Senate and Chamber of Deputies.
    • Canada employs a bicameral Parliament with the Senate and House of Commons.
      By: Anna
      Canada employs a bicameral Parliament with the Senate and House of Commons.
    • Germany has a bicameral legislature.
      By: believeinme33
      Germany has a bicameral legislature.
    • The House of Representatives makes up one chamber of the bicameral legislature in the United States.
      By: Jeffrey Schwartz
      The House of Representatives makes up one chamber of the bicameral legislature in the United States.
    • In Australia, all of the state parliaments except Queensland's are also bicameral.
      By: Tupungato
      In Australia, all of the state parliaments except Queensland's are also bicameral.
    • India's parliament is a bicameral legislature.
      By: www.andonwww.com
      India's parliament is a bicameral legislature.