Criticism of the right to extended debate and amendment in the U. S. Senate has mounted in recent years. Advocates for change have argued that the filibuster has led to paralysis and intolerable delay, citing recent battles over renewal of the debt ceiling, judicial nominations, and appropriations.
Two Senate veterans who have spent their careers as key players in the cumbersome legislative process are weighing in on the question of the filibuster.
In a fresh new study of the Senate rules and procedures, they contend that it is the filibuster itself that assures stability and deliberation in government. By protecting the rights of the minority, they found, this often misunderstood Senate process helps to preserve the Constitution’s principles of checks and balances and separation of powers.
Written with passion and with authority and experience, DEFENDING THE FILIBUSTER: The Soul of the Senate is a must-read for everyone who follows American government and legislative legerdemain.
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Soul of the Senate
Filibuster, Cloture, and Unfettered Amendment
History of the Filibuster
Polarized Politics and the Use and Abuse of the Filibuster
Criticisms of the Filibuster
The Dangers of Overzealous Reform
Related Tactics: Holds
Related Tactics: Filling the Amendment Tree
Circumventing the Filibuster: Reconciliation
Reforming the Filibuster: The Constitutional Option
Reforming the Filibuster: The Nuclear Option
Bring In the Cots
Defending the Filibuster
Excerpts from Defending the Filibuster: The Soul of the Senate
“The Senate, true to its own nature, has sought moderation and compromise. The filibuster itself has played a central role in fostering this character of the Senate and it has come to the fore each time the Senate has addressed changes to Rule XXII. The Senate has for more than 200 years protected unlimited or extended debate. It is clear that the Founders feared overzealous majority rule and wanted the passage of legislation to be difficult.
The House was designed to reflect the majority will, but the Senate in our bicameral legislative branch was formed to, in those words attributed to George Washington, "cool the hot tea" coming to it from the House. The Senate has served the role intended by the Founders well. While those Founders never contemplated the debate rules within the Senate, in the Constitution they provided the Senate with the right and obligation to write its own rules. Those rules, informed by the design of the Framers of the Constitution, after more than 200 years of molding, are no accident. Again and again, over its history, whenever the principle of supermajority requirements to end debate in the Senate has been assaulted, the Senate has backed away from adopting simple majority cloture.‿
-- Page 154
“No one disputes that the filibuster tactic is being abused in the contemporary Senate. However, tinkering with the Senate rules will not eliminate the problem. For that, we need a return to the kind of respect for the Senate itself, its history, and its rules that will restrain senators of both parties from exploiting rights embedded in the rules just because they can.
Barack Obama, while still a senator from Illinois, recognized that abandoning the filibuster is not a solution. He declared on the Senate floor: “The American people want less partisanship in this town, but everyone in this chamber knows that if the majority chooses to end the filibuster—if they choose to change the rules and put an end to democratic debate—then the fighting and the bitterness and the gridlock will only get worse.‿
-- Page 172
“The Schiavo case is a good example of a Congress enflamed by public passions that is pulled back from rash and ill-considered action by the need in the Senate to overcome a potential filibuster. The potential damage that could have been done had Congress interfered with the judicial process was great.‿
-- Page 73
“Both in 1994 and 2011, Senator Harkin had declared Senate rules unconstitutional. But, in the interim, in 2005, when the Republican majority sought to change the rules by a simple majority with a version of the “constitutional option‿then labeled “the nuclear option,‿Senator Harkin told the Senate: “It will be like an out-of-control virus. If 51 Senators can change any rule at any time for any reason, then anything is possible . . . the majority leader is letting the genie out of the bottle and there will be no putting that genie back once it is out. It will wreak destruction in ways no one now can predict or foresee.‿
-- Page 181