For Democracy to Stay, the Filibuster Must Go

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tags: filibuster, Senate

This is a singular moment for American democracy, if Democrats are willing to seize it. Whatever grand principles have been used to sustain the filibuster over the years, it is clear as a matter of history, theory and practice that it vindicates none of them. If America is to be governed competently and fairly — if it is to be governed at all — the filibuster must go.


Bipartisan cooperation and debate should be at the heart of the legislative process, but there is little evidence that the filibuster facilitates either. The filibuster doesn’t require interparty compromise; it requires 60 votes. It says nothing about the diversity of the coalition required to pass legislation. It just substitutes 60 percent of the Senate for 51 percent as the threshold to pass most legislation. If the Senate was designed to be a place where both parties come together to deliberate and pass laws in the interest of the American people, the filibuster has turned it into the place where good legislation goes to die.

That’s one reason the framers of the Constitution didn’t include a supermajority requirement for the Senate to pass legislation. They had watched how such a requirement under the Articles of Confederation had prevented the government from doing almost anything. As Alexander Hamilton wrote in Federalist 22, “What at first sight may seem a remedy, is, in reality, a poison.” Supermajority requirements would serve “to embarrass the administration, to destroy the energy of the government, and to substitute the pleasure, caprice or artifices” of a minority to the “regular deliberations and decisions of a respectable majority.”

The filibuster arose only decades later. John C. Calhoun, a senator from South Carolina used it as a means to protect the interests of slavers like himself from a majority. From its beginnings through the middle of the 20th century, when segregationists like Senator Strom Thurmond, also of South Carolina, used the filibuster to try to kill multiple civil-rights bills, the pattern has been clear: It has been used regularly by those who reject inclusive democracy.

The relevance of the history is that the pattern continues today.

Read entire article at New York Times

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