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May 20, 2005

The silliness of the filibuster

Well I did some research and I really surprised me how openly people admit that the filibuster doesn't serve any other purpose these days than, basically, to allow any single senator to hold the rest of the Senate hostage. Oh, they'll say that it prevents the majority from running rough shod over the minority, but that's all hooey. Typically more than one Senator will join forces to make it easier, but it's still a small minority holding the rest hostage to a silly rule. And from what I could find Senators really didn't filibuster that often until about the late 19th century. Eventually it got bad enough they had to put in what was called “Rule 22” in 1917 that allow 2/3 of the Senate to close debate or invoke “cloture” as they call it.

The idea, originally, was that every member of Congress should be allowed to debate as long as he needed. The goal was a better understanding of the law and its implications and its consequences. And that was part of the rules of both houses from the beginning, but the reason was actual debate. Well, through the early and mid parts of the 20th century the filibuster was used, not to further debate, but to allow a minority, or even one Senator to kill a bill. The federal lynching bills of 1922, 1935, and 1938 were all killed by filibusters. Y'know, it's so ironic that Senators used a rule that empowered a minority within the Senate — to prevent laws that would have protected minorities in the general public.

From what I can find, most of the time the filibuster was used, it was used to stop good laws. And it was used — not to allow debate — but to prevent voting. And that is not what the Founding Fathers wanted.

But the lust for power has infected both Democrats and Republicans, and neither are about to end the filibuster, even though it's obvious that nothing could be further from the idea of promoting the kind of fruitful discussion that would lead to good laws.

So when you hear all the whining and moaning about how horrible it is that the Republicans are getting rid of the filibuster, remember that, first of all —they aren't — and second of all — it would really be a good thing if they did.

Posted by Danny Carlton at May 20, 2005 05:33 PM

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Comments

"But the lust for power has infected both Democrats and Republicans..."

Ahem.

With regard to this issue, it is not so much a lust for power (on the Dems side) as a desperate last effort to avoid losing what little power they have left. It is, and always has been, traditional for the Senate to approve the President's nominees. The filibuster, as you point out, was intended to permit debate and was meant for legislation, not judicial nominees.

And it is a simple Senate rule, which was already amended several times in the last century, most recently to reduce the required cloture majority from 66 to 60. Rules are set by the Senate, and may be changed by the Senate, with a simple majority. This is no big deal-- unless you're a Democrat who knows that without uber-liberal judges on the bench to discover new nonexistent constitutional rights, their worldview will have no chance whatsoever of prevailing. They're desperate. Republicans are simply going about the business of the Senate, and the traditional business of getting Presidential judicial nominees approved.

Posted by: Dave at May 20, 2005 08:57 PM

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