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The Urgency of a Senate Rule Change

Pundits, public figures and the politically-oriented have awakened to the fact that a Senate procedural rule is undermining democracy in Congress.

Only those who spend too much time with Roberts Rules of Order can follow the tortured route through which a principled respect for free and full debate led to a situation in which it takes agreement from 60% of the Senators to bring a bill to the floor, which in effect means that it takes a supermajority to pass all legislation, originating in the House or Senate.

Because of the compromise which gave states two senators regardless of their population, the notion has arisen that the Founders intended the Senate to be undemocratic. Nothing could be further from the truth.

Alexander Hamilton and James Madison repeatedly reaffirmed the importance of majority vote in the Federalist Papers. The Constitution itself specifies the three instances in which a two-thirds vote is required.

The public weighed in to make the Senate more democratic when it passed the 17th amendment requiring the direct election of senators in 1913. This replaced the earlier provision that the state legislatures would name them.

With great gusto, the Republicans have used the so-called"invisible filibuster" 84 times since Obama was elected president, more than the total of all filibusters in the Congresses of the 1950s and 1960s.

This abuse has aroused those paying attention, but changing Rule 22 which introduced the painless filibuster will be like pulling an elephant out of hat. Too many senators on both sides of the aisle consider Senate traditions as holy writ, even though they've changed this rule three times. Much is made of the bad legislation super majorities have blocked without considering the many good laws that never get passed -- or how the difficulty of law-making in America feeds into voters' frustration and alienation.

Still the opening of the 112th Congress presents an opportunity for course correction, and some Senators are actually talking up reform proposals.

More than 300 historians, political scientists, and law profs from colleges and universities throughout the country have signed a petition calling upon their Senators"to restore majority rule to the United States Senate by revising the rules that now require the concurrence of 60 members before legislation can be brought to the floor."

Stay tuned. We'll know on January 5th whether the reformers can bring enough colleagues along to redeem democratic rule in the United States.

The Petition

Dear colleague,

The sorry spectacle of one bill after another being defeated in the Senate despite having a majority of senators voting for it impels us to circulate this petition. We are asking our senators to change the rules that have empowered a minority of 41 senators and undermined the democratic principle of majority vote. An email message returned to appleby@history.ucla.edu will affirm your support, and your name, with affiliation, will be added to the petition which we intend to present to a group of senators when the new congress convenes in January.


We, the undersigned, American historians, political scientists, and legal scholars, call upon our senators to restore majority rule to the United States Senate by revising the rules that now require the concurrence of 60 members before legislation can be brought to the floor for debate and restoring majority vote for the passage of bills.

Joyce Appleby, UCLA, retired

Katy Harriger, Wake Forest University

Senator Gary Hart, University of Colorado, Denver

Sanford Levinson, University of Texas Law School

Lawrence Lessig, Harvard Law School

Peter Onuf, University of Virginia

Jack Rakove, Stanford University

David RePass, University of Connecticut, retired

John K. White, Catholic University

Richard D. Lamm, Gov. of Colorado, 1975-1987

Coit D. Blacker, Stanford University

James Gelvin, UCLA

H. Robert Baker, Georgia State University

Darryl Holter, University of Southern California

Robert Rapetto, Yale University

David Orr, Oberlin College

Manuel J.R. Montoya, University of New Mexico

Kathleen M. Beatty, University of Colorado, Denver

Morton T. Tenzer, University of Connecticut

David S. Tannenhaus, University of Nevada, Las Vegas

Robert H.J. Abzug, University of Texas, Austin

David H. Hall, Harvard University

Carrie Menkel-Meadow, Georgetown Law School, University of California, Irvine

Carla Garadina Pestana,. Miami University, Ohio

Michael Zucker, University of Notre Dame

Thomas A. Foster, DePaul University

John Kukla, Richmond, Virginia

Corey Robin, Brooklyn College and City University of New York Graduate Center

David Thelen, University of Indiana

T.H. Breen, Northwestern University

Jonathan D. Varat, UCLA Law School

Michael Koppedge, University of Notre Dame

Michael Johnson, Johns Hopkins University

Toby L. Ditz, Johns Hopkins University

Teofilo Ruiz, UCLA

Laurel Ulrich, Harvard University

Pauline Maier, Massachusetts Institute of Technology

Anne Lombard, California State University, San Marcos

Gabrielle M. Spiegel, Johns Hopkins University

Robert A. Hill, UCLA

Buie Seawell, University of Denver

Edward Countryman, Southern Methodist University

Sara Berry, Johns Hopkins University

Thomas Bender, New York University

David Hollinger, University of California, Berkeley

Franklin W. Knight, Johns Hopkins University

Lucia Stanton, Monticello

Alan Trachtenberg, Yale University

Warren M. Billings, University of New Orleans

James Drake, Metropolitan State College of Denver

M. Gregory Kendrick, UCLA

Benjamin H. Johnson, Southern Methodist University

Kenneth Karst, UCLA Law School

Robert Johnson, University of Illinois, Chicago

Thomas S. Hines, UCLA

Herbert Sloan, Barnard College, Columbia University

Alexis McCrossen, Southern Methodist University

Ira Berlin, University of Maryland

Fred G. Notehelfer, UCLA, emeritus

Gerald L. Weinberg, University of North Carolina

Richard M. Pious, Barnard College, Columbia University

Thomas J. Knock, Southern Methodist University

Michelle Nickerson, University of Texas, Dallas

John Chavez, Southern Methodist University

Gabriel Piterberg, UCLA

John P. Kaminski, University of Wisconsin, Madison

Graham A. Peck, Saint Xavier University

Jonathan Gross, DePaul University

Jean R. Sunderland, Lehigh University

Dennis D. Cornell, Southern Methodist University

James M. Banner, Washington D.C.

David D. Leon, Howard University

Jeremy Adams, Southern Methodist University

Fred M. Woodward, Lawrence, Kansas

Hal S. Barron, Harvey Mudd College

Glenna Mathews, independent scholar

Carol Karsen, University of Michigan

David DuFault, San Diego State University, retired

Jess Stoddard, San Diego State University, retired

Philip Flemion, San Diego State University, retired

Gregg Herken, University of California, Merced

Karl Inderfurth, Center for Strategic and International Studies

Natalie Zemon Davis, Princeton University, emeritus

Edward A. Alpers, UCLA

John Snetsinger, California Polytechnic State University, San Luis Obispo

Kenneth T. Jackson, Columbia University

Margaret Jacob, UCLA

Simone Weil David, University of Toronto

Margaret Hunt, Amherst College

Charles Capper, Boston University

Ellen Carol DuBois, UCLA

Olivier Zunz, University of Virginia

John R. Chavez, Southern Methodist University

Joanne Ferraro, San Diego State University

Mary F. Corey, UCLA

Joseph Kett, University of Virginia

Ralph E. Luker, Morehouse College, retired

Gregory L. Kaster, Gustavus Adolphus College

Michael Kazin, Georgetown University

Jeremy Young, Indiana University

James Brewer Stewart, Macalestar College

Mary Beth Norton, Cornell University

Steven Conn, Ohio State University

John Carson, University of Michigan

Ruth Perry, Massachusetts Institute of Technology

Akhil Reed Amar, Yale University

Peter Reill, UCLA

Robert E. Bieder, Indiana University

Robert E. Mutch, Washington, D.C.

Edwin G. Burrows, Brooklyn College

Jeffrey K. Tulis, University of Texas, Austin

Fredriak J. Teute, Omohundre Institutie of Early American History andCulture

Francis H. Stites, San Diego State University

Albert O’Brien, San Diego State University

John H. Coatsworth, Columbia University

Jack M. Balkin, Yale Law School

Christopher Bates, California Polytechnic State University, Pomona

Iryne Black, Newport Beach, California

Timothy Black, Newport Beach, California

Walter LaFeber, Cornell University

Maeva Marcus, George Washington University Law School

Isaac Kramnick, Cornell University

Michael Meranze, UCLA

Ross Frank, University of California, San Diego

Ron Hayduk, Queens College

Lucas A. Powe, Jr., University Texas Law School

Paul Finkelman, Albany Law School

Stanley N. Katz, Princeton University

Susan Strasser, University of Delaware

Claudrena Harold, University of Virginia

Jeremy I. Adelman, Princeton University

Ann Heiney, Newport Beach, California

Anthony Grafton, Princeton University

Charles S. Maier, Harvard University

James Kloppenberg, Harvard University

Trace B. Strong, University of California, San Diego

Jeffrey C. Isaac, Indiana University

Jay Driskell, Hood College

Nancy Fraser, New School for Social Research

Ellen Schrecker, Yeshiva University

Stephen W. Feldman, University of Wyoming

Frances Fox Piven, City University of New York

Alyson M. Cole, Queens College, CUNY Graduate Center

Thomas Dunim, Amherst College

Joshua Freeman, Queens College, CUNY Graduate Center

Hendrik Hartog, Princeton University

Rick Perlstein, Chicago

Thomas Geoghegen, Desprese, Schwartz & Geoghegen

John Majewski, University of California, Santa Barbara

Anne Norton, University of Pennsylvania

Eric Alterman, Brooklyn College, CUNY

Maximillian E. Novak, UCLA, emeritus

Rogers M. Smith, University of Pennsylvania

Andrew Sabl, UCLA

Carol W. Lewis, University of Connecticut

Kate Wittenstein, Gustavus Adolphus College

Ruth Anne Baumgartner, Fairfield University and Central Connecticut State University

Ronald Walters, Johns Hopkins University

Charles Venator, University of Connecticut

John R. Wallack, Hunter College and CUNY Graduate Center

Herbert Kaufman, formerly Yale University

Ed Edelman, former Los Angeles County Supervisor

Peter Truowitz, University of Texas, Austin

Ruth Bloch, UCLA

Catherine Allgor, University of California, Riverside

David L. Richards, University of Connecticut

Naomi Merzey, Georgetown University Law Center

Philip Green, New School for Social Research

Robert Westman, University of California, San Diego

Nancy Unger, Santa Clara University

Joseph Lowndes, University of Oregon

Michael Holt, University of Virginia

Neil Sapper, Armarillo College, retired

Alan Lessoff, Illinois State University

Peter Kingstron, University of Connecticut

David Gerber, University of Buffalo, SUNY

Philip Rubio, North Carolina Arts and Technology University

Philip Nord, Indiana University

Aziz Rana, Cornell Law School

John R. Bowman, Queens College and CUNY Graduate Center

Todd Gitlin, Columbia University

Sandra Moats, University of Wisconsin, Parkside

James M. McPherson, Princeton University

Jason Frank, Cornell University

Charles Pastel, San Francisco State University

Jill Lepore, Harvard University

Jane Kamensky, Brandeis University

Alejandro E. Camacho, University of California, Irvine Law School

Donald Kennedy, president emeritus, Stanford University

Paul Seaver, Stanford University

Geoffrey Symcox, UCLA

Leslie E. Gerwin, Princeton University

Richard.H. Kohn, University of North Carolina

Michael D. Wilson, Vanguard University of Southern California

Karl Manheim, Loyola Law School

Berry M. Sax, Department of Defense Administrative Judge, retired

David Montgomery, Yale University

Michael Holt, University of Virginia

Lisa Jacobson, University of California, Santa Barbara

Walter Giger, Jr., University of Hartford

Julie Novkov, University of Albany, SUNY

Denis Z. Davidson, Georgia State University

Adolph Grundman, Metropolitan State College of Denver

Brian Balogh, University of Virginia

John A. Mears, Southern Methodist University

Bennett Ramberg, Los Angeles

Shanti Singham, Williams College

Steve Hochstadt, Illinois College

Charles Tandy, Ria University Institute for Advanced Study

Nancy F. Cotton, Harvard University

Jon Butler, Yale University

Eric Thomas, Jacksonville University

Elaine Tyler May, University of Minnesota

Jonathan McLeod, San Diego Mesa Community College

Thomas Zoumaras, Truman State University

Michelle Mart, Pennsylvania State University, Berks

Mitch Kachun, Western Michigan State University

Bill Chafe, Duke University

Walter Nugent, University of Notre Dame

Lizabeth Cohen, Harvard University

Judith Smith, University of Massachusetts, Boston

Gary Gerstle, Vanderbilt University

Elizabethy Cohgen, Syracuse University

Allen W. Trelease, University of North Carolina, Greensboro

Tera W. Hunter, Princeton University

James H. Merrell, Vassar College

Peter Novick, University of Chicago

Craig Steven Wilder, Massachusetts Institute of Technology

Seth L. Schein, University of California, Davis

Jenna Gibbs, Florida International University

Michael Latham, Fordham University

Michael Green, College of Southern Nevada

Martin Kaplan, University of Southern California

Valerie Matsumoto, UCLA

Sanford M. Jacoby, UCLA

Alexander Saxton, UCLA emeritus

Thomas J. Sugrue, University of Pennsylvania

Thomas S. Hines, UCLA

Albion M. Urdank, UCLA

Lynn Hunt, UCLA

Ron Pagnucco, College of St. Benedict, St. John’s University

David Konig, Washington University in St. Louis

Brenda Stevenson, UCLA

Linn Shapiro, Washington, D.C.

Peter Loewenberg, UCLA

Christian McMillen, University of Virginia

Hendrik Hartog, Princeton University

Estelle B. Freedman, Stanford University

Daniel Howe, UCLA

Ann C. McGinley, University of Nevada, Las Vegas

Mary La France, University of Nevada, Las Vegas

Christopher Blakesley, University of Nevada, Las Vegas

Thomas B. McAffee, University of Nevada, Las Vegas

Robert Brenner, UCLA

Gail Cline, University of Nevada. :as Vegas

George Rabinowitz, University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill

Norton Wise, UCLA

Patricia Bonomi, New York University

Jon Wiener, University of California, Irvine

Paul Finkelman, Albany Law School

Joseph Miller, University of Virginia

James MacGregor Burns, Williams College

Susan Dunn, Williams College

Lori Anne Ferrell, Claremont Graduate University

David Warren Sabean, UCLA

Isabel V. Hull, Cornell University

Edward Ayers, Richmond University

Tom Donnelly, Harvard Law School

Donald Kersey, San Jose State University

Peter H. Wood, Duke University

Joseph Scott Miller, Lewis and Clark Law School

Jonathan Lurie, Rutgers University

Maxine N. Lurie, Rutgers University

Elizabeth Fenn, Duke University

Richard Worthington, Pomona College

Richard Olsen Harvey, Mudd College

Anne K. Nelson, American University

Peter Kuznick, American University

Howard M. Wasserman, Florida International University

Diane Mazur, University of Florida Levin College of Law

David K. Robinson, Truman State University

John Wintterle, San Jose State University

William Marotti, UCLA

Peter Brandon Bayer, University of Nevada, Las Vegas

Stephen Aron, UCLA

Ediberto Roman, Florida International State University

Mellisa Stockdale, University of Oklahoma

David W. Levy, University of Oklahoma

Elyssa Faison, University of Oklahoma

Robert Savage, Florida International University Law School

Ronald Steel, University of Southern California, retired

Robert Dawidoff, Claremont Graduate University

Judith S. Lewis, University of Oklahoma

Steve Raphael, University of California, Berkeley

Robert Garwin, Chula Vista, California

Ann Caylor, Ranchos de Taos, New Mexico

Thomas McClendon, Southwestern University

Kim Lane Scheppele, Princeton University

Ira Chernus, University of Colorado, Boulder

Mark Cammack, Southwestern Law School

Myra Rich, University of Colorado, Denver

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