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Recently, several senators have been accused of putting a “secret hold” on a bill designed to curtail pork-barrel spending. According to Reuters:

Any member of the Senate may place a secret “hold” on legislation, which prevents it from being brought up for a vote until concerns about the measure are resolved.

A lot of attention thus far has been spent trying to out the senators who used this option. But not that much attention has been paid to this Senate rule that allows for a “secret hold.” This rule strikes me as immensely undemocratic.

Congress is often touted as the most democratic branch. After all, this is where the people through their elected “representatives” are to enact their preferences into law. But Congress (especially the Senate) often functions with a set of arcane rules that are more befitting to a secret society than the voice of democracy. The “secret hold” rule allows just one senator to block consideration of a law — and to do so without any accountability. There’s also the seniority system, which rewards longevity with more powerful committee assignments, helps entrench incumbents. Voters who bring in a new congressperson lose the plum committee assignments held by an ousted senior incumbent.

Of course, there’s the filibuster — perhaps the most well-known and oft-criticized Senate rule. But at least the filibuster rule allows a supermajority to override it, so it still can be deemed democratic — just not majority wins.

Rules like a “secret hold,” however, undermine Congress’s ability to act like a democratic deliberative body. Perhaps it is time for Congress to reform itself and begin using a more democratic rulebook. I’m far from an expert on Congressional rules, so I’ve only cited a few rules that I find undemocratic. Can anybody provide other examples of undemocratic rules?

Originally Posted at Concurring Opinions

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This post was authored by Professor Daniel J. Solove, who through TeachPrivacy develops computer-based privacy training, data security training, HIPAA training, and many other forms of awareness training on privacy and security topics. Professor Solove also posts at his blog at LinkedIn. His blog has more than 1 million followers.

Professor Solove is the organizer, along with Paul Schwartz, of the Privacy + Security Forum and International Privacy + Security Forum, annual events designed for seasoned professionals.

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