legislature

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legislature,

representative assembly empowered to enact statute law. Generally the representatives who compose a legislature are constitutionally elected by a broad spectrum of the population.

Types of Legislatures

Two common types of legislature are those in which the executive and the legislative branches are clearly separated, as in the U.S. Congress, and those in which members of the executive branch are chosen from the legislative membership, as in the British Parliament. Respectively termed presidential and parliamentary systems, there are innumerable variations of the two forms. It should be noted that while popular assemblies of citizens, as in direct democracydemocracy
[Gr.,=rule of the people], term originating in ancient Greece to designate a government where the people share in directing the activities of the state, as distinct from governments controlled by a single class, select group, or autocrat.
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, are often called legislatures, the term should properly be applied only to those assemblies that perform a representative function.

In its early history, the English ParliamentParliament,
legislative assembly of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland. Over the centuries it has become more than a legislative body; it is the sovereign power of Great Britain, whereas the monarch remains sovereign in name only.
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, like the States-GeneralStates-General
or Estates-General,
diet or national assembly in which the chief estates (see estate) of a nation—usually clergy, nobles, and towns (or commons)—were represented as separate bodies.
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 of France and the dietdiet,
parliamentary bodies in Japan, Poland, Hungary, Bohemia, the Scandinavian nations, and Germany have been called diets. In German history, the diet originated as a meeting of landholders and burghers, convoked by the ruler to discuss financial problems.
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 of the Holy Roman Empire consisted of representatives chosen according to classes or estates (see estateestate.
1 In property law, see property; tenure. 2 In constitutional law, an estate denotes an organized class of society with a separate voice in government. Representation by estate arose in Europe in the 13th cent.
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, in constitutional law). Out of the estates arose the typical bicameral system, in which an upper house represented the nobility and clergy and a lower house represented the bourgeoisie. Although the upper house assemblies of many countries are still nonelective or hereditary, they are generally much weaker than the popularly elected lower house and carry out only minor functions. Those states with unicameral legislatures include Finland and Israel.

The Congress of the United StatesCongress of the United States,
the legislative branch of the federal government, instituted (1789) by Article 1 of the Constitution of the United States, which prescribes its membership and defines its powers.
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 is bicameral, but rather than being rooted in societal class differences, it is based upon principles of federalism. The founders of the American republic, in order to assure acceptance of the Constitution, gave each state equal representationrepresentation,
in government, the term used to designate the means by which a whole population may participate in governing through the device of having a much smaller number of people act on their behalf.
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 in the Senate, as a gesture to the smaller states, and made membership in the House of Representatives dependent upon population size, thereby favoring the larger states. Most of the American state legislatures are also bicameral.

History

While rules of law have always been a concern for society, the use of legislatures for their establishment is a relatively modern phenomenon. In earlier times, human laws were considered part of the universal natural law, discoverable through the use of reason rather than made by the declaration of the people. With the growth of belief in positive law, the increasing need in emerging modern society for adaptable law, and the decline of monarchial power, however, legislatures with law-making powers came about. One of the oldest legislatures (with the possible exception of Iceland's AlthingAlthing
[Icel.,=general diet], parliament of Iceland. This assembly, the oldest in Europe, was convened at Thingvellir, SW Iceland, in 930. It was dissolved in 1800, was revived as an advisory body to the Danish monarchy in 1845, and in 1874, when Iceland was granted a
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 and the Isle of Man's Tynwald) is the English ParliamentParliament,
legislative assembly of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland. Over the centuries it has become more than a legislative body; it is the sovereign power of Great Britain, whereas the monarch remains sovereign in name only.
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, which, although originally nonelective and advisory to the king, has evolved over the centuries to the point where its lower house is now elected through universal suffrage and possesses the sovereign power of the state.

Some other modern national legislatures are the U.S. CongressCongress of the United States,
the legislative branch of the federal government, instituted (1789) by Article 1 of the Constitution of the United States, which prescribes its membership and defines its powers.
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, the CortesCortes
, representative assembly in Spain. The institution originated (12th–13th cent.) in various Spanish regions with the Christian reconquest; until the 19th cent.
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 (Spain), the Knesset (Israel), the Dáil ÉireannDáil Éireann
[Irish,=diet of Ireland], the popular representative body of the Oireachtas, or National Parliament, of the Republic of Ireland. The second, smaller chamber, the Saenad Éireann, or Senate, has very limited powers, and the executive, as
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 (Ireland), the BundestagBundestag
, lower house of the parliament of the Federal Republic of Germany. It is a popularly elected body that elects the chancellor, passes all legislation (subject to executive veto on budget matters), and ratifies the most important treaties.
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 (Germany), the FolketingFolketing
, national parliament of Denmark. Formerly the lower house of the bicameral Rigsdag, it became the sole parliamentary body in 1953. It shares legislative power with the monarch, who can dissolve the body but cannot assume major international obligations without its
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 (Denmark), the RiksdagRiksdag
, national parliament of Sweden, formed in 1866. Originally a two-chamber legislature, it became a single chamber body in 1971. Representation in the chamber is proportional. Members are elected by universal suffrage for a term of three years.
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 (Sweden), the StortingStorting
, national parliament of Norway, dating from 1814. Its members are elected by direct universal suffrage for a four-year term, and representation is proportional.
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 (Norway), and the Congress of People's Deputies (Russia). The term parliament is often applied to national legislatures without regard to the official designation.

Bibliography

See W. I. Jennings, Parliament (2d ed. 1957, repr. 1969); American Assembly, State Legislatures in American Politics (1966); G. S. Blair, American Legislatures: Structure and Process (1967); W. H. Agor, ed., Latin American Legislatures—Their Role and Influence (1971); J. Smith and L. D. Musolf, ed., Legislatures in Development: Dynamics of Change in New and Old States (1979); N. J. Ornstein, ed., Role of the Legislature in Western Democracies (1981); D. Judge, The Politics of Parliamentary Reform (1984).

Legislature

 

(1) In Russian a word (legislatura) used to refer to the term of office of a representative body (parliament, municipal council) or elected official (president, vice-president, governor, or mayor).

(2) In federal states a term sometimes used to refer to the legislative bodies of the members of a federation (for example, the legislature of certain states in India).

(3) In legal and political literature, a synonym for parliament. In English sources, the legislative bodies of countries of the British Commonwealth are called parliaments; for the parliaments of other countries the term “legislature” is used.

legislature

a body of persons vested with power to make, amend, and repeal laws
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