Mr Smith Goes To Washington (1939)
There was a time when filibusters were symbolic of a principled stand...a David standing up to the Goliath. I think Strom Thurmond's filibuster against the Civil Rights Act of 1957 took the sheen of nobility off the filibuster, but what constitutes a filibuster these days is not at all recognizable from the Mr. Smith or the Sen. Thurmond version. And it's clear, looking at this graph
that the Republicans have upended the intent of the filibuster rule to basically break down the Senate and launch the virtual rule of the minority.
The Brennan Center for Justice at the NYU School of Law released a report on the abuse of the filibuster (.pdf)
Authors Mimi Marziani and Susan Liss highlighted how the relentless obstruction weakens not only the Senate but of the governing of the country and set up the constitutional arguments for rules reform by a simple majority vote.
Over the last decade, Senate procedures have increasingly been used to prevent decision-making rather than to promote deliberation and debate. The threat of a filibuster – coupled with a 60-vote requirement to force any substantive vote – has affected nearly every action in the Senate during the last several years, under both Republican and Democratic majorities. As a result, the Senate has effectively ceased operating as the majoritarian institution our founders intended for it to be.
They note the contrast between public support for a bill and the Senate’s inability to pass it:
The current situation is simply unsupportable. There can be no doubt that the anger and frustration expressed by so many Americans about the inability of government to make their lives better can be directly attributed to the Senate’s repeated failure to act. To cite just one example, the DISCLOSE Act garnered strong public support, won the vote of 59 senators, but could not become law. No wonder that recent polls show that just 21% of Americans approve of how Congress is doing its job.
But lest they be accused of taking some partisan interest in fixing things for the Democrats, Marziani and Liss are advocating for rule changes NOW to simply for the Senate to get the work of the People done, irrespective of which party will be in the majority in the future:
The Brennan Center has not previously studied the filibuster or Senate procedure, and took no part in earlier debates about its use and abuse. We write at a time when control of the body by one party is diminished, and when no one knows who will have the majority two years from now. Now, when the partisan implica¬tion of filibuster reform is unclear, is the ideal time to modernize Senate rules. For whichever party wields the gavel, our democracy is ill served by a Senate that is tangled in obsolete and easily-abused rules of its own making.
The filibuster is an important--and necessary--tool for the Senate to maintain. However, the current system where a senator need only anonymously register his intent and then do nothing, necessitating the Senate to then get 60 votes for cloture to then begin debate is unworkable. Do you realize that the public option would have passed the Senate if we just had the 60 votes for cloture? Think of DADT, DREAM, START and others, all with more than 50 votes supporting it, all struggling for life under the filibuster abuse of the Republicans. Jeff Merkley has a common-sense plan on how to reform the filibuster rules and keep it within the original framers' intent.
You can help by signing Sen. Merkley's petition for filibuster reform.
We've written about the Merkley proposal quite a bit. Now, with the continuing difficulties to pass DADT and the DREAM Act in the Senate, the need for reform in the face of easy filibusters -- which essentially take a body, the Senate, designed to operate by majority rule and transform it into a body that can only function with a supermajority -- Republicans have given us all the reason we need to make the change.