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Licensed Unlicensed Requires Authentication Published by De Gruyter January 3, 2022

The Distortions and Realities of the Senate’s Constitutional Purpose: Setting the Record Straight on “Senate Exceptionalism”

Daniel Wirls
From the journal The Forum


Drawing on part of the argument from my recent book, The Senate: From White Supremacy to Government Gridlock (University of Virginia Press, 2021), I critique what I call “Senate exceptionalism:” the notion that the Senate is the framers’ particularly special or remarkable creation. I do so by contrasting the historical and constitutional distortions that support this institutional conceit with the realities of the founding and American political development. After reviewing the parallels between the ideas and tenets of American and Senate exceptionalism, I introduce four arguments from the book that undermine the basis of the Senate’s exceptionalism and in particular draw critical attention to the constitutional mythology surrounding and supporting the filibuster in the form of Senate Rule XXII and its three-fifths supermajority threshold for ending debate on many matters before the Senate.

Corresponding author: Daniel Wirls, Professor of Politics, University of California, Santa Cruz, USA, E-mail:

Published Online: 2022-01-03

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