During his 2016 campaign Donald Trump published a list of people from whom he said he would fill vacancies on the U.S. Supreme Court. Although not on the original list, Brett Kavanaugh was added to it later.
Trump's early identification of potential future office-holders suggests another possible innovation in American government: creation of a "shadow cabinet" similar to the one existing in the United Kingdom (UK).
In England the queen is ceremonial head of state and the prime minister is head of government. The prime minister is normally the leader of the party holding a majority in the House of Commons, the lower chamber of the English parliament.
As in the U.S., the head of government appoints people to lead the various administrative departments, and in England these cabinet "ministers" are normally members of Parliament belonging to the prime minister's party, or to the parties making up a ruling coalition.
The leader of the largest party which is not in power is called "the leader of her majesty's loyal opposition" and most likely will become prime minister if that party wins a majority in the House of Commons.
This person appoints a group of top party leaders to form a "shadow cabinet."
Each member of the shadow cabinet is assigned an administrative department to keep an eye on, to criticize, and for which to propose policies that are different from those of the current minister. The members of the shadow cabinet usually become heads of the departments they were shadowing if their party leader becomes prime minister.
The fact that these new ministers had already been monitoring the departments they are now heading is very advantageous. Unlike people appointed to the American cabinet, they do not have to learn about their new jobs from the ground up. They are already familiar with the problems facing their department and personally acquainted with the top civil servants with whom they will be working.
In the U.S. top department personnel of an outgoing administration draw on their experience to prepare "briefing books" to help incoming administrators get quickly up to speed in their new roles. As usual, these briefing books were prepared during the final months of the Obama administration.
But according to Michael Lewis, author of the recently published "The Fifth Risk," some of the incoming cabinet members did not bother to look at these materials. This may partially explain why the transition to the Trump administration was so disorderly. If the new cabinet members had already been members of a shadow cabinet, the transition would have been smoother than is the usual case, not rougher.
Although English ministers must be members of Parliament, usually but not always of the lower house, members of the American cabinet cannot be members of Congress.
Presidents sometimes appoint senators and representatives to cabinet positions , but they must then resign from Congress. However there is no reason why some or all members of an American shadow cabinet could not remain in Congress.
One other big change would be required if we want to have an American shadow cabinet.
The opposition party would have to select its leader, presumably its presidential candidate in the next election, at the beginning of a new administration rather than shortly before the next election. But such a change could be a significant improvement in our system for choosing new presidents.
It would give the public more opportunity to judge the temperament and ideas of the opposition leader, who would be in the public eye for several years before the voters had to decide whether to elevate that individual to the White House.
We often hear that state governments can experiment with new ideas — the "laboratory of federalism" — which if they work well can be copied by other states or by our national government. There is no reason why Americans cannot also draw on experience in other countries. A shadow cabinet might be one example of a foreign institution we would do well to import.
Paul F. deLespinasse is Professor Emeritus of Political Science and Computer Science at Adrian College. He received his Ph.D. from Johns Hopkins University in 1966, and has been a National Merit Scholar, an NDEA Fellow, a Woodrow Wilson Fellow, and a Fellow in Law and Political Science at the Harvard Law School. His college textbook, "Thinking About Politics: American Government in Associational Perspective," was published in 1981 and his most recent book is "Beyond Capitalism: A Classless Society With (Mostly) Free Markets." His columns have appeared in newspapers in Michigan, Oregon, and a number of other states. To read more of his reports — Click Here Now.
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