After playing with several ideas on gridlock for a symposium that I’m participating in this Fall, I’ve settled on more of a “first-principles” approach to the problem. So let’s start with this: What do people mean by gridlock? I think that there are four possibilities.
1. There is a national consensus about what to do but our dysfunctional political institutions prevent that consensus from being enacted.
2. Party discipline prevents elected officials in Washington from reaching necessary compromises and then persuading voters to accept those agreements as a consensus.
3. Our political structures are preventing a national consensus from forming.
4. There is no consensus in the country.
My view is that the real problem is #4. #1 is an issue (mostly about the filibuster) but only at the margins. Trying to change #2 is probably futile, assuming that you even believe that we suffer from too much party discipline. #3 is also an issue (take gerrymandering or campaign finance regulation), but an overrated one.
Of course, if there just is no consensus in the country on major issues, there is nothing that clever lawyers can do about that without violating some basic principles of representation. The only solution is to persuade voters. It does happen–consider how public opinion has changed on a variety of topics. It just takes time and effort. Anyway, I think that will be the theme of my paper.