The Journal of Politics


Discharge Petitions, Agenda Control, and the Congressional Committee System, 1929–76

Kathryn Pearsona1 and Eric Schicklera2

a1 University of Minnesota

a2 University of California, Berkeley


The discharge petition process offers a simple majority of members of the U.S. House of Representatives a mechanism to circumvent gatekeeping imposed by committees and party leaders. Using recently discovered data on all discharge petitions filed from 1929 to 1976, along with public data from 1993 to 2006, we test hypotheses about partisan agenda control and the House committee system. Rather than universalistic norms of deference to committees, we find that members with a greater stake in the committee system were less likely to sign than were other members. In addition, northern Democrats, despite their majority party status, were more likely than Republicans to sign discharge petitions for much of the 1940–60s, in sharp contrast to majority party members’ unwillingness to sign in the contemporary era.

(Received June 11 2008)

(Accepted December 03 2008)


Kathryn Pearson is assistant professor of political science, University of Minnesota, Minneapolis, MN 55455.

Eric Schickler is professor of political science, University of California, Berkeley, Berkeley, CA 94720.