by Jorge Gomez
A scan of recent headlines shows a renewed effort to possibly eliminate the U.S. Senate’s filibuster, one of America’s most enduring legislative traditions.
Opponents of the filibuster sanitize their plan by calling it “reform,” but their real intent is something far more dangerous: To bulldoze a key Senate procedure that they see as a roadblock to quickly enact a radical agenda—starting with stacking the federal courts with judges who will help one party achieve its political agenda.
Let’s not forget about something called the “nuclear option,” a Senate rule that’s already in place to temporarily bypass the filibuster and achieve political consensus, without having to completely destroy longstanding Senate norms.
It seems like they conveniently forgot about this option—and if they succeed at eliminating the filibuster, it will be like dropping a nuclear bomb on the Constitution.
Destroying a Centuries-Old Legislative Norm Designed to Foster Moderation
Let’s start by quickly brushing up our congressional history. The U.S. Senate has a longstanding tradition of allowing unlimited debate on legislation. Ultimately, granting unlimited debate means that sixty (60) votes in the Senate are required for a bill or legislative measure to move toward a vote.
In practice, that means that forty-one (41) senators, a minority in the chamber, can delay or block action by threatening to prolong debate—or filibuster.
Critics will claim this is an underhanded tactic that creates political backlogs. But the fact is there’s a foundational reason why the filibuster is part of America’s legislative process, and why it has also withstood the test of time.
Unlimited time for debate means that Senators of the majority party cannot do whatever they want, however they want, whenever they want.