American Government and Politics

Packing Committees in the US House: Strategic Use of the Territorial Delegates after 1970

Cameron DeHart Stanford University
Non-voting delegates have represented territories in Congress since 1797, but have only been able to vote in committees in the last half century. The institutional changes that expanded delegates’ rights coincided with rising polarization and partisanship in Congress, but we know little about the relationship between these reforms and these trends. I argue that these changes can be best understood through the lens of partisan conflict. The paper’s main finding is that the addition of delegates to standing committees in the 1970s, as well as the Committee of the Whole in the 1990s, increased Democrats’ seat share relative to the margin on the floor. This paper places delegates’ rights into the context of increasing polarization and partisanship, and explains why conflict over these marginal legislators has become a regular feature of American politics over the last half century.