What is the purpose of "bicameral" state legislatures?

In preparation for this November’s election, I’m giving myself an online course of Civics 101. I’m trying to better understand all the different divisions of political representatives, both state and federal.

Right now I’m working out the difference between a “state senate” and a “state assembly”. California has 40 state *senators *and 80 state assemblypeople. Together, these divisions and their officials comprise the California State Legislature.

The State Senate is the “upper chamber” of the state legislature, and the State Assembly is the “lower chamber” of the state legislature. Each of the officials in these two groups of people represents a district from each chamber’s differently numbered set California districts.

Whew. Good thing I’ve taken notes.

My question: what is the purpose of this division of people in our legislature? According to website Ballotpedia, this system of division is called “bicameral”. I’m not clear on why this is necessary. Is there an upper chamber because those are the higher-ranking jobs? I don’t get it.

Fun fact: only one state currently has a unicameral legislature: Nebraska.

The reason for bicameralism among state legislatures is primarily historical; the states modeled their governments after the federal system which was modeled after the British parliamentary system. In the federal system the Senate has exactly two members from each state and the House is apportioned by population. Many states had similar systems, with the upper house having equal numbers of representatives from each county or some other kind of political subdivision, but this type of structure was found to be unconstitutional in a series of court cases in the 20th century.

So now, all states with bicameral legislatures have a smaller upper house whose members represent large districts of roughly equal population.

The upper house typically has exclusive, more prestigious duties, such as approving executive appointees and state judges, overseeing state law enforcement, regulating and investigating certain things, etc. It varies considerably among the states. Like the federal system, the consent of both houses is always necessary to pass new legislation.

For the same reason the US Congress has a bicameral legislature, to represent differing interests. In California’s case, the Assembly is elected from districts based upon population, whereas the state Senate was initially elected based upon county lines (geography). The Senate election rules were changed in 1964 to redraw district lines to comply with Reynolds vs. Sims ruling.

Quite correct. We got rid of the lower house as a cost cutting measure during the '30s. Now if we can just get rid of the rest…

You might check term length for members of each house. It’s true in the Federal system and in at least some State legislatures that the Senate (upper house) has longer terms between election to force a slower, more deliberate, more contemplative pace of action. On the other hand, the lower house turns over relatively quickly and is expected to be more responsive, reactionary and more sensitive to populism.

The “upper house” is also typically smaller, meaning that each individual legislator in that house has more power.

But yeah, it’s mostly just historical, from being modeled on the US federal government.

To amplify the answers above, England had the House of Lords representing the lords and House of Commons representing commoners. I think that originally the two houses had equal powers, excepting only Commons could originate taxes. Over the centuries, but especially after Cromwell, Commons took most of the power and Lords had their wings clipped. When the US formed the idea of a bicameral (two-chambered) congress seemed reasonable and it was originally set up so that the Senate represented the states and HR the people. After the 17th amendment both houses were popularly elected and the Senate largely duplicated HR, but is slower to change. When states made their constitutions, it just seemed right to have two chambers, although it does not make a lot of sense. Some states set it so that the senators represented counties. But a state is not a federation of counties and that doesn’t make a lot of sense.

Canada was also set up with two houses, Commons and the Senate. But senators are chosen by the Prime Minister and must retire at 75. The senate can delay legislation or try to amend it, but ultimately Commons will prevail. And the PM has the right to enlarge the senate if they prove obstreperous. So the senate is most useless body around.

The division of the U.S.A. into states was an old historic fact; they were separate entities — it was a long buggy ride from one state to its neighbor.

This isn’t really the case with California, is it? While different parts of the state have different cultures, isn’t the division into counties rather arbitrary? And California’s senate districts don’t follow county lines anyway; they’re drawn to give each district the same population.

Why then in tarnation is the senate division completely different from the assembly division? Since 40 is precisely half of 80, it would be easy to, e.g., combine assembly districts 1&2 into senate district 1, assembly 3&4 into senate 2, and so on. (All assuming there’s any good reason for the 2nd house at all).

But that’s not how it works at all. Why? Gerrymandering?

To add to Hari Seldon’s comment, all the Provincial legislatures in Canada are unicameral. Only the federal legislature is bicameral.

Illinois does it this way. Each senate district is divided into two house districts. My impression is that most other states do not. No, I don’t know the reasoning.

In some countries, the Senate election is a pure popularity poll, with no allocation given to population or geography. But their job is to provide an ear to whatever dissent or argument that may have been neglected or thrown out in a one-off vote at the HR. They also tend to act as the Government’s busy bodies, inquiring about the smallest issues they notice, often by-passing their primary purpose “in aid of legislation.”

The policy justification for a bicameral legislature is to split legislative power between two bodies, that, because of their differing term structures and different constituencies, have the possibility of representing differing interests.

Upper chambers have staggered terms, so there’s no chance that they’ll all be overturned in a single election. Also their terms are longer than in lower chambers. So the potential pace of change in the upper house is slower.

The whole point is to make it harder to pass legislation, to have different kinds of constituencies, to have different levels of power, to have different motives and perspectives, and then forcing them to compromise in order to enact law. It’s a moderating factor, seeking to make change slower, more deliberative, and to retard the ability of any one political faction to radically change policy based on a single election.

(Sorry, another wrong post)

That’s true in a lot of cases but by no means universal. The New York State Senate has no staggered terms and senators serve the exact same two-year term as in the Assembly (lower house.) The only difference between the two is that the Senate has larger districts (63 districts vs. 150 in the Assembly) and that the Senate has certain special powers like approving some appointments.

Supposedly the original goal was for the senate to act as a check on the more ideological agenda of the house.

Senate members are fewer and higher ranking than house members.

I guess you also have the benefit that you need both legislatures to get a legislative agenda passed, as opposed to systems with just one legislative body. Or ones where there is just one legislative body that can pick the prime minister.

“The more impediments to legislation, the better…”
– Professor Bernardo De La Paz

I don’t think that you guys actually hit on the reason for a bicameral legislature in the US. It was a protection against mob rule. The Founding Father’s were very concerned about the power of the people. They observed that in classical democracies it was very common for demagogues to come to power and destroy the system. The Senate (and Electoral College) was a protection against this. Originally, the Senate was NOT voted on by the people. It was conceived as a body appointed by state legislatures. This would provide a level of cushion between the people and the Senate. Their idea was that the state legislatures might be controlled by the people, but together they would moderate one another and be more likely to elect a moderate statesman to the Senate which would itself be filled with these more moderate statesman that would be able to put a check on populism. The Electoral College was designed to do the exact same thing. It was not meant to be a direct election of the people, but rather an election of moderate statesmen who hopefully would temper the ability of the people to elect a demagogue.

What happened was that over time, the people were able to gain more control of the bodies. Part of it was through equal rights amendments, but also because the US has generally been a place that valued rule by the people. Historically, we were very, very invested in the idea. I think it was Toqueville that marveled at how Americans basically embedded democracy in every facet of our lives and that everyone was a member of a civic organization and that they all operated on democratic principles. He found it remarkable that we understood that sometimes we lose, but we still have to plug along for the sake of the body and how it was just assumed that as soon as an organization was set up it would be run according to democratic principles. (I was actually reading how that has shifted in the US and that we don’t see children or adults as members of these ‘democracy building’ institutions like we used to, but I digress.) Regardless, the people have gradually chipped away at those built in protections over the last couple of centuries and has made it so that we don’t even recognize why they are there in the first place.

The OP’s question is about bicameralism in state legislatures.

The division of the US into states is because of how it was colonized. Different corporations, bodies and people were given different land grants for different purposes. Pennsylvania wasn’t formed due to a buggy ride but because the King owed William Penn a ton of money and so gave him his own quasi-country to pay off the debt. Maryland existed because there was some extra land and Baron Baltimore was willing to pay for a refuge for Roman Catholics. Boundaries were fought over at court and it’s why we end up with funky things like the Virginia part of the Delmarva or the Twelve-Mile Circle. These colonies essentially functioned like independent client states–in some cases with almost no oversight from Britain (William Penn basically ran Pennsylvania and Delaware like his own dictatorship-but a pretty benevolent one.)

State legislatures mostly just took their form from the Virginia General Assembly which was made by Madison and Jefferson who largely wrote the Constitution as well.

It goes back even further. The Roman Republic had a bicameral legislature, the Senate and the Plebeian Council.