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Mon Dec 3, 2012, 03:49 AM

The specious appeal to a minority party's "rights" as a defense of the filibuster

In the debate over whether and how to reform the Senate filibuster, opponents have been making a lot of noise about the purported "rights" of a minority party in the Senate. But the Constitution does not even so much as contemplate the existence of political parties, let alone extend to them, as a bloc, any particular "rights." So appealing to the minority party's "rights" as a bloc amounts to utter nonsense. Any rights as regards the Senate attach either to the body as a whole (e.g., the Constitution gives both the House and Senate the right to set their own rules, as a body), or to individual Senators on an equal basis. Individual senators have the right to vote their consciences, and even to vote against their party if their consciences so dictate. The Constitution contemplates both houses operating by a simple majority vote, and explicitly lays out the circumstances (such as impeachment or a constitutional amendment) that require a super majority (two-thirds in both cases).

The filibuster exists, in the first place, as a parliamentary courtesy to ensure that a minority party has an opportunity to be heard. But Republicans in the last two Congresses have not used it merely as an opportunity to be heard; they have abused it, invoking it on virtually EVERY piece of legislation that comes before it. And it has been used not only on votes on actual legislation, but on parliamentary procedural votes (e.g., on votes regarding whether or not the Senate will take a vote on a particular piece of legislation). The filibuster was NEVER intended as a means for a Senate minority to block legislative action, or to prevent votes from taking place on executive branch nominees.

The Constitution, while allowing each house of Congress to make its own rules, most certainly did not envision either body creating a rule that could be used to effectively thwart the will of a duly elected majority. Lest anyone wish to claim that this is something "both parties do," it is important to note here that Republicans in the last two Congresses have employed the filibuster at a rate that is nearly DOUBLE that of any other Congress in American history, including those in which Democrats were in the minority. Since Republicans have demonstrated that they cannot be trusted to use a parliamentary courtesy in the manner it was intended, it is past time to reform that rule to whatever extent is necessary to prevent the current minority, or any future minority, from preventing the Senate from accomplishing the work it is elected, and Constitutionally-mandated, to do. Simply leaving it as it is renders impossible governance in a closely divided political climate, and thwarts the very core essence of democracy.

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Response to markpkessinger (Original post)

Mon Dec 3, 2012, 04:04 AM

1. Very well said!

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Response to markpkessinger (Original post)

Mon Dec 3, 2012, 05:39 AM

2. You're so right. The filibuster shouldn't be used to hold the majority hostage

to the minority.

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Response to markpkessinger (Original post)

Mon Dec 3, 2012, 08:00 AM

3. let them argue that both parties do it. it's a lie but who cares? it's still an argument for change

i agree republicans have mastered abuse of it. to whatever extent democrats have abused it, we're just amateurs trying to keep up.

but so what? how is "both sides do it" an argument for keeping the filibuster in place as a rule that can be abused by both sides? all that does it add further to the point that the rule can be abused and is being abused and should be severely curtailed.

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Response to unblock (Reply #3)

Mon Dec 3, 2012, 08:05 AM

4. Very good point! n/t

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Response to markpkessinger (Original post)


Response to markpkessinger (Original post)

Mon Dec 3, 2012, 01:04 PM

6. It sounds like this guy might disagree with you...

Excerpt from the Senate floor speech:

"A conversation between Thomas Jefferson and George Washington describes the United States Senate and our Founders Fathers vision of it.

Jefferson asked Washington what is the purpose of the Senate?

Washington responded with a question of his own, “Why did you pour that coffee into your saucer?”

“To cool it,” Jefferson replied.

To which Washington said; “Even so, we pour legislation into the senatorial saucer to cool it.”

And this is exactly what the filibuster does. It encourages moderation and consensus. It gives voice to the minority, so that cooler heads may prevail.

It also separates us from the House of Representatives – where the majority rules. And it is very much in keeping with the spirit of the government established by the Framers of our Constitution: Limited Government…Separation of Powers…Checks and Balances. Mr. President, the filibuster is a critical tool in keeping the majority in check. This central fact has been acknowledged and even praised by Senators from both parties.

http://democrats.senate.gov/2005/05/18/reid-floor-speech-on-use-of-filibuster/

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Response to hughee99 (Reply #6)

Mon Dec 3, 2012, 01:18 PM

7. You are entitled to your opinion.

I disagree with you a thousand times over.

Did Jefferson EVER say that a tool should be in place to thwart doing what's best for this Nation?

Show me.

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Response to 99Forever (Reply #7)

Mon Dec 3, 2012, 01:19 PM

8. Sorry, this wasn't my opinion.

It was that of the current Senate majority leader. This is from his floor speech, when he was in the minority.

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Response to hughee99 (Reply #8)

Mon Dec 3, 2012, 01:23 PM

10. Yes, and it was still his opinion two years ago when he was Majority Leader . . .

. . . But after watching the bad faith way in which the GOP has used the maneuver, he seems to have changed his view. I see nothing wrong with that.

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Response to markpkessinger (Reply #10)

Mon Dec 3, 2012, 01:31 PM

14. Personally, I'm in favor of making the people who want to filibuster stand up and physically do so,

though I'm not in favor of eliminating it altogether. I think we need to keep in mind that the person we'd be relying on to make this happen is someone who has (at least until recently) a "soft spot" for the filibuster. Don't get your hopes up. Harry is a smart guy. I think he could push this through if he wanted to, but I also think he knows how to engineer his own failure and tell you he "tried his hardest" but couldn't get it done.

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Response to hughee99 (Reply #8)

Mon Dec 3, 2012, 01:29 PM

13. Your opinion, Reid's opinion...

... whomever's opinion. It still sucks and it's destroying lives and killing people.

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Response to 99Forever (Reply #13)

Mon Dec 3, 2012, 01:32 PM

15. Reid's opinion matters a lot more than mine, since HE'S the one

we're relying on to get this done. I'm not sure his heart is really in it.

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Response to hughee99 (Reply #6)

Mon Dec 3, 2012, 01:21 PM

9. I do believe Harry Reid's view has changed somewhat . . .

. . . He seems to be leading the charge to reform the filibuster, including a proposal to eliminate the filibuster altogether on motions to consider.

The filibuster may once have served the role of "giving voice to the minority," but it was never intended to effectively block the majority from passing legislation altogether or approving executive branch nominees, which is how the GOP minority has been using it for the past four years.

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Response to markpkessinger (Reply #9)

Mon Dec 3, 2012, 01:25 PM

11. Yes, I believe it has. People tend to view weapons differently

when used by them rather than against them.

From his speech:
"Senators have used it to stand up to popular presidents. To block legislation. And yes – even to stall executive nominees. "

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Response to markpkessinger (Original post)

Mon Dec 3, 2012, 01:26 PM

12. The filibuster is one more device employed by wealthy private interests

to shield themselves from democracy.

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