Once I was a believer in the time-honored Senate filibuster tradition, although by “believer” I don’t necessarily mean that I loved it or revered it, exactly. I was more like a guy worried about a zombie apocalypse stocking up on 12-gauge shells. In case things go to hell, at least the good guys have the filibuster to slow the lumbering herd of dead meat down a little, right? So, I believed in the filibuster the way a B-grade horror flick protagonist might believe in ammunition.
The main difference between the Senate and a zombie apocalypse, of course, is that zombies aren’t real but the Senate is very much upon us. Also, in neither case does it look like we have enough ammo.
The last few years have changed the equation significantly. The GOP has somehow perfected the art of derailing the upper house merely by using the word “filibuster” in casual conversation in the cafeteria, while the Democratic response has called to mind nothing quite so much as a barrel of chimps trying to decode the Nag Hammadi texts. In other words, the ‘buster has become a weapon for evil, pretty much exclusively.
Periodically the topic of “filibuster reform” bubbles to the surface, although I have gotten to the point where when I hear the word “reform” in any political context I immediately check to make sure my wallet is still there. Education “reform.” Tort “reform. You get the idea. Now, though, we’re seeing a new tack: sue the Senate.
WASHINGTON, DC – Common Cause filed a lawsuit today asking the U.S. District Court in Washington to declare that the Senate’s filibuster rule is unconstitutional and violates the core American principle of majority rule.
Once a rarely used maneuver to allow extended debate, the filibuster now is routinely employed to block debate on hundreds of critical issues, including tackling the student loan debt crisis, revitalizing the economy, requiring disclosure of campaign spending, and filling court vacancies. The suit charges that the rule is unconstitutional and was never contemplated by the nation’s founders.
The 52-page complaint argues that the filibuster allows senators representing as little as 11 percent of the population to prevent votes in the Senate; that violates the Constitution, which envisioned majority rule except where specifically stated otherwise. Once used to ensure open debate and deliberation, the filibuster rule is now used to actually stifle debate and make a mockery of the legislative process.
“It’s clear the framers intended that a supermajority be required only in rare and special cases, like impeachment, ratifying a treaty, or overriding a presidential veto,” said Emmet J. Bondurant, founding partner of Bondurant, Mixson & Elmore, Common Cause’s lead attorney and a member of the organization’s National Governing Board. “It was not meant to block debate.”
There is a case to be made that the United States Senate has caused irreparable harm to millions of individuals simply because it can’t do its job. The egregious misuse of the filibuster stops good legislation in its tracks, preventing progress that the American public both needs and deserves. From the perspective of the United States House of Representatives, the Senate’s filibuster dilutes their votes and usurps their power. The filibuster, as it is currently used, can in fact be seen as unconstitutional – or, at least, some might make that case.
Should be interesting to watch. For my part, I’m terrified of zombies, but if there are more of them than there are shotgun shells, it might be time to think long and hard about another survival strategy.