We Have To Kill the Filibuster. Here’s Why:
Leo Ogle '23
What is the filibuster? A filibuster on the floor of the Senate first occurred in 1837 when Whig senators took advantage of the fact that when a senator stands to speak, they cannot be interrupted to block a resolution lifting a censure of President Andrew Jackson. The process of filibustering arose from this practice and involves a member of the Senate stalling a vote through refusing to yield the floor. Basically, as long as the Senator continues speaking, no vote can take place.
It is a matter of professional courtesy left over from a bygone time. This becomes a problem when taken with the fact that pieces of legislation have to be passed in a certain length of time. This means that any piece of legislation can be killed without being voted down. There is only one way to defeat a filibuster, this is called cloture, and it is when 60 senators vote to bypass the filibustering senator and hold the vote.
The entire concept of the filibuster runs contrary to everything we hold dear in a democratic republic. The very fabric of government is based on the fact that an idea or law should be debated and voted on. A law must face trial by vote. This is how a republic operates. Anything that impedes the free floating legislative process is nothing less than undemocratic. Nowhere in Article I of the Constitution does it say, “Bills shall be passed by a simple majority, unless some windbag refuses to yield the floor.” The filibuster allows a small minority to jam up any legislation they oppose, and it leads to bad faith politics (it should probably just be called politics at this point).
Now, you are probably wondering how this can affect you. Here is a way: A bill that could help millions of people is not passed because of procedural edicate. This is in fact not a hypothetical. One of the most prominent examples of this happened in 1957 when Senator Stom Thurmond killed the 1957 Civil Rights Act with a 24-hour filibuster. The Act would have passed had it been put up to a vote, and legal segregation would have died seven years earlier than it did. As a result of the act not being passed when it was, the Civil Rights Movement was forced into a dangerous push for equality. People of color and civil rights workers were terrorized and murdered in those seven years.
Currently, the threat of a filibuster is enough to stop legislation in its tracks. To be completely frank, there are very few pieces of legislation that would ever get 60 yea votes without a filibuster. The result is a series of the least productive, low down rotten congresses in the history of this great nation. It can be fairly easily seen how the growing polarization of the nation has led to deep gridlock in Congress, and the filibuster only makes it worse. Instead of needing to convince a few swing votes, legislatures also have to convince people not to filibuster. This keeps important legislation from being passed and it grinds our democratic process to a screeching halt. Our nation’s government is sick, and the filibuster is a massive tumor causing its rapid decline. It disenfranchises people, and has led to some of the greatest injustices in this nation’s history. The solution is simple: we need to trash the filibuster.
Proponents of this outdated and undemocratic custom will say that it protects the minority opinion. This is ridiculous because the entire purpose of a democracy is to give a voice in one form or another to all its members. We do this through our system of elections. Every two years the government is overturned without a shot being fired. Every member of the House of Representatives goes up for reelection and at least a third of the senate is also up for reelection every two years. The very point of this is to protect the rights of all viewpoints, for if your senator votes for something you disagree with, you have the right to spend two years trying to unseat them. This draws back to the very nature of how undemocratic the filibuster has always been. It is legislative obstruction in the flesh.
As well as in the electoral system, the rights of the minority opinion are ensconced in the very nature of congress. Bills must pass through committee after committee of people from both sides of the aisle. There is an arduous process, and solutions only come after a “watering down” of the bill’s original purpose. Very rarely are things passed that completely roll over the minority, and when it appears that such bills have passed, one must consider why the minority and majority failed to reach a consensus.
Moreover, this leads to another major point about why proponents of the filibuster are wrong. The extremely divisive bills that these ardent proponents fear rarely last an election cycle if they are truly opposed by the populace (look at that democracy in action). Perfect examples of this would be Obama era positions that were swiftly overturned when Trump came to office. Quite simply, divisive policies that are unpopular don’t hang around. This makes it clear that the filibuster is not only undemocratic, but functionally useless in every area except making the legislative process more inefficient.
As stated before, the filibuster gives the power to a dissatisfied member of the Senate to hold our nation’s political system hostage. The gears of government no longer turn as the people listen to bedtime stories read by a gargoyle who doesn’t want the government to impose health care on poor people. That’s dystopic, not a voting rights bill. If you believe that the voting rights bill is unconstitutional, don’t tell your Senator to filibuster it. Tell them to get as many of their like minded-probably legally educated fellow Senators to vote it down. That is how democracy works.
It is imperative to the very survival of our Republic that we do away with the filibuster. People have died because of it. Laws that could have actually made a positive difference were killed, and we are a less perfect union because of it. It’s antiquated purpose amplifies the nature of the bad faith politics the filibuster lives in. We are a democracy: let's act like it.
To the Republic, For Which It Stands
William Benson '22
As America begins to question its very foundations as a republic, I would like to begin with some of my favorite quotes in defense of the filibuster:
"At its core, the filibuster is not about stopping a nominee or a bill, it's about compromise and moderation. The nuclear option extinguishes the power of independents and moderates in the Senate. That's it, they're done. Moderates are important if you need to get to 60 votes to satisfy cloture; they are much less so if you only need 50 votes.”
“Bottom line is very simple: The ideologues in the Senate want to turn what the Founding Fathers called ‘the cooling saucer of democracy’ into the rubber stamp of dictatorship. We will not let them. They want, because they can’t get their way on every judge, to change the rules in mid-stream, to wash away 200 years of history. They want to make this country into a banana republic, where if you don’t get your way, you change the rules. Are we going to let them? It’ll be a doomsday for democracy if we do.”
"What [the American people] don't expect is for one party… to change the rules in the middle of the game so they can make all the decisions while the other party is told to sit down and keep quiet."
Let's take a gander at who said these impassioned statements in support for the filibuster–
The First: President Joseph Biden
The Second: Senate Majority Leader Charles Schumer
The Third: President Barack Obama
Back in 2005, these then-Senators made great defenses of the filibuster when the situation was reversed. When Republicans held a majority in the United States Senate, Democrats balked at the idea of removing the filibuster (the so-called “nuclear option”) for judicial appointments to the federal bench. However, not only did Republicans never go through with it, but a bipartisan group of fourteen Senators came together to support keeping the filibuster and leaving it intact. Though to Democrats at the time, there was no graver threat to “democracy” then removing the filibuster.
And if the hypocrisy was not enough, just a few weeks ago, on the same day Democrat senators stood on the Senate floor to decry the filibuster, they would later use it a mere few hours later to block Republican sanctions on Russia that would have passed 55-44. Regardless of opinion, the logic does not play out well. However, the modern fight over the filibuster goes back to 1987 when Democrats, including Joe Biden, threatened to filibuster Judge Robert Bork and his appointment to the Supreme Court.
Times, and certainly politics, change though. It is now 2022. Before the Senate stands many pieces of legislation critical to the success of President Joe Biden’s agenda. Conveniently, all of these politicians now believe that the filibuster is an obstacle to “democracy” and must be abolished to fulfill the “demands” of the People.
Regardless of circumstance, the filibuster is integral to the survival of our republic. Let’s examine three reasons why:
One – Senator Schumer is right. The Senate is the “the cooling saucer of democracy.”
When the Founders devised our constitutional system, the Senate was designed precisely to “tame the passions of the people.” On the one hand, the House of Representatives would serve to represent and entertain the everyday wants of the People. On the other, the Senate, being composed of older, wiser, and more aristocratic individuals, would serve to hamper these passions, only passing legislation that would truly benefit the country.
While this vision is far from being implemented today, the point is the same: the Senate is meant to be un-democratic.
It is often an overused platitude, but America is a republic, not a democracy. Mob rule was one of the greatest fears of the Founders. Therefore, they designed the Senate precisely to balance all the interests of the nation while having the internal mechanisms to terminate legislation that would be considered rash, dangerous, or harmful.
To paraphrase from political commentator Michael Knowles, “America has many democratic elements. It also has many anti-democratic elements. It even has many monarchical elements.” What Knowles highlights is precisely the point: we are not a pure democracy. The passions of the people should not always be entertained. At times, they must be hindered. In his words, “the end of all politics is not the whims of the people.” When we are ruled exclusively by whatever a majority wants at any given moment, we descend into mob rule, a perversion of republican, constitutional government.
Do not get me wrong, however. There are legitimate concerns of the People. There are just and unjust aims of government. However, rash changes to constitutional norms is only reserved for the most dire of circumstances. We must have prudence to determine policy that is just, for the common good, and produces human flourishing. None of this is seen in President Biden’s current agenda, as his apparatus continues to abuse the passions of the people through the guise of “democracy.” Therefore, the filibuster's survival is integral, and those seeking to abolish it seek nothing besides the degradation of our republic and the end of our constitutional order.
Two – The politics of it all.
Imagine it is now January 2025. Republicans control the House, the Senate, and the Presidency.
To the Democrats on the other side of the aisle: Are you prepared for such a situation with no filibuster?
Make no mistake: once it’s gone, it’s gone.
If Democrats are to remove the filibuster, there is no going back. When Democrat Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid removed the filibuster for federal judicial appointments 2013, Republicans responded by furthering it for Supreme Court appointments in 2017. The violent back and forth is already ongoing, and while I am no political clairvoyant, we can all see where this is going.
Considering the People in our present situation, only 41% of Americans even support President Biden’s Build Back Better agenda, according to NPR. And his current approval rating, hovering in the mid-to-high thirties, leaves President Biden with very little mandate for his aims anyway. If Democrats cheat the political system and abolish the filibuster, the violent back and forth will continue, and there is no need for me to write about what the clash of the two most contrasting political platforms in history will bring if left uncontained. This leads me right to my next point:
Three – The upending of our constitutional order is not something we should entertain.
I would be remiss, however, if I did not explain what exactly was wrong with President Biden’s agenda, and why the filibuster was so critical to stopping it. There is a difference between right and wrong. Politics, and our constitutional order, is not some neutral playing field. President Biden’s policies seek to subvert this order and replace our objective moral standards.
One instance of this is “The Freedom to Vote Act,” a rather deceitful name. The bill seeks to federalize our entire system of elections, concentrating political and electoral power completely in the hands of the federal government and Democrats. Now, I am the last person to make vague appeals to “small government,” but I know a power grab when I see one. In other words, there is a moral difference between Republicans attempting to pass the CARES Act (COVID relief filibustered by Democrats) and Democrats attempting to pass their present agenda.
As much as I would like us all as Americans to agree on our moral values and seek the common good in our policy, it is not our present situation. It would be much better if we used politics, and the filibuster, to stop disagreements in seeking policy that is just, not as a fighting weapon as our nation disagrees on the very premises of morality, justice, and nature. No political institution, and no nation, is meant to survive such disagreements. Regardless, the filibuster is our sword, and it must be preserved. It is critical that the filibuster remains to stop a swath of unjust and immoral laws coming from the Left, including the codification of Roe v. Wade – just as it was designed.
And for now it stands, thanks to the efforts of Republicans and Democrat Senators Joe Manchin and Kyrsten Sinema. For those concerned, this adds up to 52 Senators, or a democratic majority.
As Harvard law professor Adrian Vermeule asserts, “if you replace ‘democracy’ with ‘liberalism,’ it all suddenly makes sense.”
The filibuster is a threat to