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What is a Bicameral Legislature?

L. S. Wynn
By L. S. Wynn
Updated May 23, 2024
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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.

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

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.

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Discussion Comments
By mrtao — On May 10, 2012

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

By anon108125 — On Sep 01, 2010

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

By lightning88 — On Aug 05, 2010

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.

By yournamehere — On Aug 05, 2010

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!

By cindydungca — On Aug 13, 2007

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

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