Wednesday, April 20, 2005

A Few Thoughts On The Filibuster

I have to admit that, in principle, I don't like it. Is it constitutional, or democratic? I don't think so. Imagine for a moment that the required majority were even larger. Say that the Republicans, knowing that the Democrats were going to get big gains in the next election, raised the required number to end a filibuster from 60 to 90--effectively making all work impossible without overwhelming Republican support. What would we do?

We'd use the nuclear option, that's what. We'd simply void the rule and say, "tough cookies!" Now, before you start complaining that allowing a mere %11 to block any legislation is very different than allowing 41%, let me point out that the smallest 20 states represent less than 10% of our population! That's right, under present filibuster rules, the Senators from the smallest 20 states--plus one Senator from Mississippi (the 21st), together representing 10.9% of the American people--can block any appointment and almost any law.

Of course, if they ever tried it, the rest of the Senate would use the nuclear option--void the rule and say, "tough cookies!" But that's just admitting that the rule we have now is made to be broken. Maybe a better rule would be to allow Senators representing 50% or more of the American people to sustain a filibuster. The Democrats in the Senate (plus Jeffords) represent 51% of us today (seldom mentioned by the SCLM), but the Republicans would need only one defector to get all their judges confirmed.

That change would be a big win for Republicans right now, but might be worth it for the Democrats and for democracy in the future. In the near future, Democrats are likely to regain both the Presidency and the Senate. But even if they represent a super-majority of the American people, they are unlikely to ever again be able to break a Republican filibuster--without going nuclear. The Senate rules are just too skewed towards the small--mostly Republican--states.


Blogger Daryl McCullough said...

Actually, I consider the use of the filibuster to block lifetime judicial nominees to be much more justifiable than for regular legislation. In the case of regular legislation, if a law passed by Congress turns out to be very bad, it can be changed in the next Congress session. But many judge positions are lifetime appointments. It makes sense to me that we shouldn't make such a committment unless there is virtual consensus that the judge is qualified and reasonable. Alas, consensus seems to have disappeared from American politics.

11:17 PM  
Blogger Kyle McCullough said...

I agree that the filibuster should be used for judges if it's going to be used at all. The Republicans have made a lot out of the fact that it has seldom been used for judges. But that's just silly. Republican appointees have seldom faced filibusters because Democrats controled congress, and Democratic appointees seldom faced filibusters because they had to be conservative enough to appeal to Southern Democrats anyway!

12:20 PM  
Anonymous enfant terrible said...

What in the world could possibly be unconstitutional or undemocratic about the filibuster? Without the filibuster, the minority of Americans that happens to be represented by a majority of Senators could exercise unlimited power over the majority of Americans that got the short end in the Senate lottery. (Check the census numbers!) And if there is nothing to prevent them to pack the courts with their ideological partners, the power they have is truly unlimited.

3:10 PM  

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