Should the Senate filibuster be allowed to continue?
- A filibuster is a political procedure where one or more US Senators debate to delay or prevent voting over proposed legislation.
- The longest filibuster in Senate history lasted 60 days, from March 9, 1964-July 2, 1964, over passing the Civil Rights Act of 1964.
- In 2017, when Democrats were in the minority under President Trump, 31 Republican and 30 Democrat Senators signed a bi-partisan letter promising to “preserve existing rules” of the Senate minority to “engage in extended debate when bills are on the Senate floor.”
- Senate records show Democrats used the filibuster (requiring two-thirds majority cloture votes to end the debating period) more than 300 times during President Trump’s term, far exceeding any other US President. A “super majority” (60 out of the 100 possible votes) must be reached to end a filibuster and pass legislation.
- In July 2020, former President Obama referred to the filibuster as a “Jim Crow relic,” urging Senators to remove it.
- In April 2005, then-Senator Obama said this of the filibuster: 'If the majority chooses to end the filibuster [and] change the rules and put an end to Democratic debate, then the fighting and the bitterness and the gridlock will only get worse. [...] We need to rise above the ‘ends justify the means’ mentality because we’re here to answer to the people, all of the people, not just the ones wearing our particular party label.”
The Senate filibuster should not be allowed to continue because it obstructs the democratic process, creates a hostile legislative environment, and is a very questionable loophole in Senate debate rules. A Senate filibuster obstructs the democratic process by effectively paralyzing legislators' ability to proceed with proposed legislation to bring it to a vote one way or the other. The dramatic increase and abuse of the filibuster in recent decades have only exacerbated this dysfunction even further. The filibuster also creates a hostile legislative environment that is based more on intimidation and threats than on mutual understanding and compromise. This is clearly evidenced by Senator McConnell's recent 'scorched earth' response when he vowed that any previous hindrance to the democratic process would be 'child's play' compared to what he would do next.
The Senate's ability to even filibuster at all is a very questionable loophole in Senate debate rules during a time in our nation when transformative change and reform is greatly needed instead. Historically, the Senate has never been officially granted the right to filibuster. The ability to do so was only created from an unintentional mistake by eliminating the previous question motion in 1806. No one knew or ever intended that the monstrous filibuster would come from this mistake. We the People deserve to have a well-functioning democracy, without the petty bullying tactics of a Senate filibuster that only came from an error that has now become quite grievous and must be corrected.
The filibuster can appear to be an odd rule if you don't understand its history or the Senate's design. Far back in history, there is precedent for legislative delays; both the ancient Roman Senate as well as the British Parliament had used the filibuster. The purpose of the filibuster is to give voice to the political minority. The US Senate is a body meant to move slowly and deliberately, not steamroll laws while one party holds majority over the other. The Senate has been called 'the world's greatest deliberative body.'
The fact that Southern Democrats had once used the filibuster against civil rights legislation does not mean the tool itself is bad or should be thrown out, as Richard Arenberg, author of 'Congressional Procedure' and 'Defending the Filibuster,' argues. Arenberg claims the majority will rule the Senate with an 'iron fist,' including stacking committees and blocking debate if the filibuster is taken away.
The filibuster has been and can be reformed without abolishment. The Senate can enact rule changes to make the filibuster more difficult or implemented less often, as they have already. In 1917 the Senate passed the cloture rule to force an end to debate by a two-thirds majority vote. The arguments for ending the filibuster claim the political minority is blocking the will of the majority. In actuality, cloture, or Rule 22, as it is otherwise known, requires sixty votes, a greater majority than the simple fifty-one to pass a bill; thus, greater representation is needed.
Since its inception, the filibuster has greatly served the US and is a shining tool of our democracy, not damaging to it as Democrats currently claim.