A House Divided: American Political Development, Parties, and Law

Civil War political cartoon

A House Divided


“A House Divided” aims to use the toolkit of American Political Development, American Political Thought, historical institutionalism, and political and intellectual history to shine a light on our current politics. The animating idea is that American politics is best understood through the lens of timely, snapshot quantitative studies and situating American politics in historical and developmental context.

“A House Divided” aims, then, to carve out a currently unoccupied space: to provide for an educated lay and scholarly audience a site to place our current politics in a richer historical and theoretical context.

JMC fellows Calvin TerBeek, John Dearborn, and Robinson Woodward-Burns are contributors.

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“The GOP’s Flip Side of the Same Coin: Party Politics, Constitutional Politics, and the Administrative State”

By Calvin TerBeek


“Easily missed in the tumult last week was the Supreme Court’s decision to review the constitutionality of the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau’s structure. The product of Obama era legislation and a constant source of partisan strife in its short existence, the Court is going to decide whether the CFPB head’s protection from at-will removal by the president violates the Constitution’s separation of powers—the “structural Constitution” as conservatives like to call it. The Court further told the parties to brief whether the entire agency must go if the agency head’s protection from presidential removal is held unconstitutional. Not incidentally, a group of conservative originalist law professors, the Cato Institute, and a handful of conservative public interest litigation groups filed briefs this past summer urging the Court to take the case.

News reports, liberal, and conservative analyses have focused on the legal questions and on whether Justice Scalia’s 1988 dissent in Morrison v. Olson will be “vindicated” (on which more below). But making sense of the Court’s decision to hear Seila Law v. CFPB profits from understanding the judicial and party politics that structure this choice. First, Chief Justice Roberts’ playbook in high salience areas such as this is now well established. Holding at bay the most enthusiastic conservative justices—Thomas, Alito, Scalia (†), and now Gorsuch—Roberts invites new cases where he patiently builds the requisite precedents to accomplish conservative and GOP legal policy goals methodically. Voting rights and campaign finance are pertinent examples of this strategy. Seila Law, then, should be understood as the opening salvo in what will be a line of cases where the Court will pare back aspects of the administrative state conservatives dislike. Indeed, Seila Law is part and parcel of the justices’ forays last term into agency deference and the non-delegation doctrine. As former White House counsel Don McGahn said in 2017, ‘There is a coherent plan here where actually the judicial selection and the deregulatory effort are really the flip side of the same coin…'”

Click here to read the entire piece on the A House Divided website >>



Calvin TerBeekCalvin TerBeek is a political science PhD candidate at the University of Chicago. His work is focused on party politics and judicial politics from the Progressive Era to Trump. More specifically, he is interested in how party politics helped create the constitutional politics of the Democratic Party’s legal liberalism and the GOP’s constitutional originalism. Before coming to Hyde Park, TerBeek clerked for two judges and practiced commercial litigation for large and boutique firms.

TerBeek is a JMC fellow.

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“Impeachment and American Political Development”

By John Dearborn and Jack Greenberg


“A president is facing impeachment, nearly exactly when Arthur Schlesinger anticipated. At the conclusion of The Imperial Presidency in 1973, he offered a warning:

“We have noted that corruption appears to visit the White House in fifty-year cycles. This suggests that exposure and retribution inoculate the Presidency against its latent criminal impulses for about half a century. Around the year 2023 the American people would be well advised to go on the alert and start nailing down everything in sight.”

In other words, Schlesinger claimed that whenever there is something like a Nixonian moment of embarrassment to the office, it is supposed to have a legacy of about 50 years, operating as a check on presidential conduct. But as the memory of it erodes, presidents gain more confidence in their ability to push the boundaries of their power.

To be clear, we are not claiming that there is some deterministic logic to the timing of impeachment, nor are we asserting that Schlesinger actually prognosticated President Donald Trump’s ascent and current predicament. Rather, we view Schlesinger’s claim about recurrent presidential corruption and impeachment as an invitation to consider the significance of today’s impeachment inquiry in American political, institutional, and constitutional development. To do so, we consider Trump’s potential impeachment through two American Political Development frameworks: Stephen Skowronek’s theory of political/secular time and Keith Whittington’s idea of constitutional construction…”

Click here to read the entire piece on the A House Divided website >>



John DearbornJohn Dearborn is a Postdoctoral Associate in the Center for the Study of Representative Institutions and a lecturer in the Department of Political Science at Yale University. His principal research and teaching interests include the Presidency, Congress, American Political Development, American Political Thought, and Archival Methods. His book project, The Representative Presidency: Ideas and Institutional Change, considers the relationship between ideas and institutions, focusing on the idea of presidential representation.

Dearborn is a JMC fellow.

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Robinson Woodward-Burns is an Assistant Professor in the Department of Political Science at Howard University, where he researches American constitutional thought and development, focusing on civil rights, federalism, slavery, abolitionism, and transcendentalism. He has published on American constitutionalism in The Journal of Politics, Polity, The Maryland Law Review, The Tulsa Law Review, and The Washington Post and has a book on American constitutional development under contract at Yale University Press.

Professor Woodward-Burns is a JMC fellow.

Learn more about Robinson Woodward-Burns >>



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