The Thurmond "Rule"

By Thomas Meijer

On 13 February, American supreme court justice Antonin Scalia passed away, opening up a seat of the bench of the supreme court.[1] Obama would obviously like to nominate a liberal democrat to fill up this vacancy, however this would presumably tip the current balance of four democrats and four republicans to the left, for at least the next two presidential terms.[2] The republicans have been quick to invoke the so-called ‘Thurmond Rule’ – which “is a Senate practice wherein no nominations are decided within the last few months of a presidential election year.”[3] Thus this would supposedly prohibit president Obama to appoint a new judge, and let that decision be made by the next president. While the Thurmond Rule is referred to as an unwritten rule – or informal institution -  I doubt whether it holds up as such.                              

The Thurmond Rule is not written down, thus making it ineligible as a formal institution. After closer inspection, one can argue that the Thurmond Rule is not eligible as an informal institution either. I take Helmke and Levitsky’s definition of an informal institution as “socially shared rules, usually unwritten, that are created, communicated, and enforced outside of officially sanctioned channels”.[4] The Thurmond Rule, however, is not necessarily enforced outside of officially sanctioned channels. In the 20th century there have been 6 cases where appointments were made in an election year.[5] If a party holds the majority in the senate, they will be able to vote against an appointment by the president, with at least 51 votes.[6] However, the Thurmond Rule never became an informal bipartisan agreement.[7] Thus only if one party holds the majority in the senate and is facing an appointment by the president of the opposite party, will they have incentives to invoke the Thurmond Rule and enforce it. Rather than being an informal institution, the Thurmond Rule seems to be a republican obstructionist tool that they can use whenever this comes to their aid.


[2] Ibid.






Actors in the Civil Rights Movement as Endogenous Change Agents

By Thomas Meijer

In the period after the Second World War, the fight for equality for African Americans in the United States – known as the civil rights movement – really took flight. However, while slow steps were made by executive action and judicial rulings, no major progress was made by legislative initiatives. Desegregation reforms remained slow due to the fact that many key positions, especially numerous committee chairmen, were held by southerners. Moreover, a powerful coalition of southern Democrats and northern Republicans formed a block against any reforms. Thus initially the actors that defended the status quo had relatively strong veto possibilities, due to southern agenda setting power and the strong anti-segregation reform coalition. And these were only the direct institutional veto points, let alone the extrainstitutional veto points that general racism in the south presented. 

While agents of change within the parliament faced too strong veto possibilities to make any significant changes, it were change agents pushing for desegregation outside of this institution that brought on the pressure for change to happen. Protests and racial violence – accompanied by public opinion coming alongside the fight for desegregation - finally led to the signing of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, followed by the Voting Rights Act in 1965 and the Civil Rights Act of 1967. Change agents in the civil rights movement could not take advantage of a disjuncture between the rules and enforcement, thus sought to eliminate the existing rules on segregation and add on new rules to give African Americans civil rights. Thus one could argue that actors within the civil rights movement were insurrectionaries that sought to displace segregation laws, in ways that did not follow the rules of the political system – i.e. (violent) protest. Conversely, actors in the civil rights movement also worked with actors within the government that could be identified as symbionts. They managed to bring about endogenous change by layering new rules on civil rights for African Americans by executive action, judicial rulings and, most importantly, new legislation.

Brexit and institutional change: what will the EU and Britain do?

By Thomas Meijer

On the 27th of June Great Britain will decide whether it stays in the European Union in a referendum. This can have major effects on Britain and the EU’s economies, politics and international relations, but also on the institutions in both and their future development. You could argue that the EU and Britain have arrived at a critical juncture, as a number of options are open to a limited amount of actors, which in turn could determine on what path Britain and the EU are set.                                                                                                  

The Global Council describes five possible options that Britain has if it would exit the EU, in which case certain institutions, such as the rules that allow for a single market and the authority of the European Court of Justice, would radically change for BritainOther options are currently being explored by David Cameron, who has struck a deal on a reform package that puts certain limits on the EU’s authority over Britain. The deal could be seen as a combination of layering, by giving every member state a ‘red-card’ which allows new ways of blocking EU legislation, and the establishment of an ‘emergency handbrake’ that allows Britain to delay paying benefits and cut existing child-benefits for migrants. It could also be seen as changing the level of enforcement, as Britain now no longer strives for an ‘ever closer union’.                       

If Britain were to exit, they would have to overcome the obstacles created by coordination problems and veto point both at once in the upcoming referendum. Asset specificity and positive feedback present other major obstacles in moving towards a Brexit, especially in the business sector, as Britain has access to the EU’s single market and all its trade agreements. Some suggest a Brexit might set the EU on a path of more integration, while others think EU-skeptical behavior will spread contagiously to other members. This could possibly create a tipping point against the EU.