Archive | June, 2013

Use of the Filibuster

5 Jun

The filibuster has been used in the senate since the 1800’s.  It used to be used when debating mostly controversial bills only.  In recent history it has been overused and abused as a right in the senate.  Before I go further into this article I want to say that I am 100% in favor of keeping the filibuster, I just think that it is being abused.

The United States Senate is unique for many reasons.  One of the many reasons it is unique is that it gives a lot of power to the minority party.  Obviously a bill can’t get passed without a majority, but it can be blocked by 41 senators.  In some cases one senator can simply put a hold on a nomination.  The filibuster used to be used only for the most controversial bills.

Up until the Civil Rights Act passed it was one of the most divisive issues in American politics.  It had fierce opposition until several versions passed under Eisenhower and later Lyndon Johnson.  (President Kennedy wanted to get Civil Rights passed under his presidency and pushed for it.)  Senator Strom Thurmond, a Dixiecrat who ran on a pro-segregationist platform for president; set a record for the longest filibuster by a lone senator.  He filibustered the 1957 Civil Rights Act for 24 hours.  (See NY times article link below)

The 1964 Civil Rights Act was just as, if not more of, a controversial issue.  Senator Clair Engle of California famously helped end the filibuster that year.  Although he was unable to speak because of a brain tumor, he pointed to his eye to signal he was in favor of breaking the filibuster.  As I have mentioned in a previous blog entry, congress still worked to get things done after debating the Civil Rights Act.  This wasn’t done after the 2010 Affordable Care Act.

The biggest problem with the filibuster today is that it abused.  Something as simple as naming a post office after someone was filibustered recently.  The Democrats also used the filibuster a lot, but not as often as the Republicans have in recent years.  That isn’t to excuse the Democrats for using the filibuster, but the Democrats didn’t use it for nearly every bill.  I think that the filibuster should still exist, but there should be some limits on it.

I definitely don’t think that cloture (60 votes) should be required for virtually every senate vote.  It should be allowed for a Supreme Court justice only if the nominee is extreme, and not by party standards but as judged by an independent.  Really controversial bills could be subject to a filibuster.  I like that the minority party has the ability to block controversial bills, but it shouldn’t be used to stop as many bills as it does now.

  1. http://www.nytimes.com/2003/06/27/us/strom-thurmond-foe-of-integration-dies-at-100.html
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