James M. Curry and Frances Lee Receive 2021 Gladys M. Kammerer Award

The Gladys M. Kammerer Award is presented annually by the American Political Science Association (APSA) to honor the best book published during the previous calendar year in the field of U.S. national policy.  

James M. Curry is an associate professor of political science at the University of Utah. He is the author of Legislating in the Dark: Information and Power in the House of Representatives (2015), and co-author of The Limits of Party: Congress & Lawmaking in a Polarized Era (2020), and a textbook, Congress and Its Members. His research has also appeared in the American Political Science Review, the Journal of Politics, Perspectives on Politics, Legislative Studies Quarterly, and other outlets. He received his Ph.D. in Government & Politics from the University of Maryland in 2011 and previously worked in Capitol Hill in the offices of Representative Daniel Lipinski and the House Appropriations Committee. 

Frances E. Lee is a professor of politics and public affairs at Princeton University. She is the author of Insecure Majorities: Congress and the Perpetual Campaign (2016) and Beyond Ideology: Politics, Principles, and Partisanship in the U.S. Senate (2009) and co-author of The Limits of Party: Congress & Lawmaking in a Polarized Era (2020), Sizing Up The Senate: The Unequal Consequences of Equal Representation (1999) and a textbook, Congress and Its Members. Her research has appeared in the American Political Science Review, American Journal of Political Science, Journal of Politics, Perspectives on Politics, Legislative Studies Quarterly, and other outlets. She is editor of the Cambridge Elements Series in American Politics and a series editor for the Chicago Studies in American Politics. In 2002-2003, she worked on Capitol Hill as an American Political Science Association Congressional Fellow. She is a member of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences. 

Citation from the Award Committee: 

 In The Limits of Party: Congress and Lawmaking in a Polarized Era, authors James M. Curry and Frances E. Lee buck the conventional wisdom that legislative policymaking has changed dramatically in the current era of intense partisan polarization. Indeed, Curry and Lee demonstrate convincingly that much of the commentary about changes in congressional policymaking over time is wrong. Using an impressive array of data from a variety of sources, they show that despite more partisan processes, legislative outcomes have not changed — rather, they are just as bipartisan and (un)productive as usual. Regardless of whether one considers all bills that pass Congress, only landmark legislation, or only majority party priorities, most of the legislation that passes Congress does so with support from minority party leaders and members. The notion that legislative policymaking requires cohesive majority parties that, powered by elite and mass polarization, are able to ram their legislative agendas through Congress without minority support does not fit with the reality of contemporary congressional lawmaking. Simply, the path depicted by many commentators — that the majority party rolls over the opposition party — is relatively rare.  

Curry and Lee demonstrate that unorthodox lawmaking is more common, but this has not resulted in increased success by the majority party over time. In response to legislative lawmaking outcomes, members of the majority take credit for their wins, even more members of the minority assign blame for their losses, with the result that consumers of political news are left with the impression of intense partisan acrimony. Surprisingly, Curry and Lee show that the collective tone of comments made by members of Congress has not changed dramatically over time. We remember the legislative steamrolls because some are very important but also because party fights generate more news coverage. We also remember the lawmaking failures due to minority opposition more than the bills that are never developed due to intra-party disagreements.   

This is an important, must-read book with big implications for those seeking to understand lawmaking in the contemporary U.S. Congress — and in particular, the limitations faced by the current Democratic majorities. 


APSA thanks the committee members for their service: James C. Garan (Chair), Louisiana State University; Dr. Matt Grossmann, Michigan State University; and Allyson Shortle, University of Oklahoma .