Abolishing the Legislative Filibuster?


In Lecture 4 (see slides 42-45), we discussed the role of the filibuster in the US Senate. Between 2013 and 2017, the Senate voted to reduce the number of votes needed to break a filibuster against the nomination of federal judges, Supreme Court justices and executive branch nominees from 60 to 50. This has effectively eliminated the filibuster for nominees. Over the past two years, President Trump has pressed Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell to “to go nuclear” and do away with the ability to filibuster legislation, as well. To date, McConnell has resisted this, though the idea has support from other corners of the Republican Party, including from outgoing House speaker Paul Ryan.

What do you think of this proposal? What is the strongest case you can make for–or against–abolishing the legislative veto? Please draw from at least one external source in framing your response.

8 Replies to “Abolishing the Legislative Filibuster?”

  1. The filibuster method is used by minority parties to create an obstruction that will prolong or veto a legislature. They are also used when nominating justices. I understand that it may be crucial for those on the minority vote to get their point and vote across when extremely necessary, however, we live in a democratic society where majority rules and we have all agreed to this through history.
    My issue with this is that it creates a senate that is antimajoritarian. We live in a society where majority rules (a democracy). However, this filibuster is making minority group have just as much power as the majority. Majorities should be successful in enacting favored legislation however I feel that the filibuster gets in the way because of time and cost associated with it. Filibusters present and uncertainty to the process.
    My second reasoning is that there was clearly an issue if the two/thirds vote requirements were changed for the nomination of justices and executive branch nominees. Although it has basically eliminated the filibuster for that precedence, there are still ways of invoking cloture in extreme disagreements between minority groups and majority groups.
    My last reason is the cost of obstruction in these filibuster cases. Prolonging some of the laws creates an issue of cost and if it’s a law that is necessary for our evolving society, we must act sooner than later. Wawru and Schickler call this “wars of attrition”. Yes, it can work in favor of an opposing party, but it challenges the credibility of the majority group and its ability to make rules regardless of the salience.

    Smith, S., & Park, H. (2013). Americans’ Attitudes About the Senate Filibuster. American Politics Research, 41(5), 735–760. doi:10.1177/1532673X13475472

    Wawro, G., Schickler, E. (2006). Filibuster: Obstruction and lawmaking in the U.S. Senate. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press.

  2. I am unsure where I stand with this. On one side people take advantage of the filibuster rule and abuse the purpose of it. If a debate is not going a certain way one can prolong the debate and force a conclusion to not be made at the moment. This ties up time and creates more problems. However, it can also be used in a positive way to help the debate going on something that needs more time and attention. It stops issues from just being passed over. The majority can just vote on a bill without much debate, but the filibuster rule can halt that process and force a more in depth debate about the topic.

    “The case for the filibuster is simple: The Senate is meant to be a deliberative body, and the filibuster helps sustain that deliberation, putting a break on the process when it moves too quickly, and forcing compromise and consensus among lawmakers.” Without this rule we are risking our senate playing on an unfair ground. Lecture 4 shows how there is an increase in the use of the filibuster in Senate lately. It is being abused and creating more friction.

    When used properly, I can see the benefit of it’s use. I do not really see the purpose of it though if they lowered the amount of votes to break a filibuster from 60 to 50. That just means that the majority has more control once again. I do believe that their needs to be some type of rule in place though in order for minority parties to have their concerns heard without being voted against immediately. Some sort of slow down so issues are not passed by too quickly.

    Bouie, J. (2017, April 06). Let the Filibuster Burn! Democrats Are Better Off Without It. Retrieved July 17, 2018, from http://www.slate.com/articles/news_and_politics/politics/2017/04/let_the_filibuster_burn_in_truth_democrats_are_better_off_without_it.html

  3. It is hard to say what the right call is on the topic of getting rid of the filibuster or even lowering the votes needed from 60 to 50. With the two party system that we deal with now, it honestly just feels like which ever side is calling to end filibustering or lowering the votes is doing so to get the upper hand at that moment. I suppose that could be said for a lot of things in our political system but still it is just hard to get behind from my point of view. The filibuster is a political tool that has hindered governmental progress for a long time now. Yet that’s not always a bad thing. There needs to be a way to prevent certain things from going through in the senate and that just how it is.

    If the filibuster rule would be made easier to get around then the senate would lose something that made it distinctly different from the rest of congress and majority rule would flow freely through both sides of the legislative branch of government. The upside to this is that government would move a bit quicker. Actions would take place that would normally be filibustered down and our government would feel like more is getting done, for better or worse. On the downside any minority is at an even larger disadvantage without being able to filibuster. The argument against this is that we live in a majoritarian society, where majority typically rules. A response to this is that just like almost any other voting system we have in place there is a set of checks and balances that are there strictly to try and make things as fair as possible. Our entire governmental structure has these checks and balances in place so that if the congress gets over flooded with democrats then someone can stop them. If the president is a republican he can’t just put through an entire republican agenda because another branch of government has the ability to stop that from happening.

    So in conclusion all though i can see the plus side to making it easier to get around the filibuster, I do not think its the wisest decision. It is a rule that is in place so that the majority doesn’t always have its way and that’s something we can see throughout our governmental process. Checks and balances are needed sometimes and the filibuster is just another way of doing that. There have been times where there has been some real gridlock in government and sometimes when government was working extremely effectively. The filibuster was alive in either of those scenarios so I don’t see why it should be blamed now when government isn’t going as well for one party or the other.

    Wood, Genevieve. 2015. “Getting Rid of the Senate Filibuster Is a Bad Idea.” The Daily Signal. https://www.dailysignal.com/2015/10/21/be-careful-what-you-wish-for-getting-rid-of-the-senate-filibuster-is-a-bad-idea/ (July 18, 2018)

  4. The filibuster is an important legislative tool for senators to utilize. It is a tool that provides the minority party in the Senate the ability to voice their opinion or force debate on a topic. One of the main aspects of a democracy is even the smallest voice should have a platform to be heard. Removing the filibuster would be a step away from the democratic values that we Americans hold so dear. On April 5, 2017 Senator John McCain stood on the Senate floor and spoke about the filibuster in regard to the nomination of Neil Gorsuch and while Senator McCain believed the filibuster was wrong, he believed that the nuclear option was just as bad. McCain tells us of how over the years he worked with Senators from both sides of the isle in order to end filibusters by forcing cloture with a supermajority of 60 votes.
    One of the major aspects of Senator McCain’s speech is his use of quotes from his own party. In 2013 the Democratic Majority Leader Harry Reid called for a vote to change the rules when it came to invoking cloture to end a filibuster. In a 52—48 vote the majority party lowered the threshold for invoking cloture for filibusters pertaining to a large majority of presidential nominees. Now a simple majority would be good enough to invoke cloture. It is important to note that this excluded nominations to the Supreme Court. In response to this action multiple republican senators publicly voiced their anger. Sen. McCain quoted fellow Sen. Lamar Alexander from Tennessee who claimed that “This action today creates a perpetual opportunity for the tyranny of the majority because it permits a majority in this body to do whatever it wants to do any time it wants to do it.” (McCain Floor Statement, April 2017). Senator McCain also provided a quote from an Op-Ed written by Senator Mitch McConnell the current Majority Leader of the Senate, who claims that, “A serious threat has been quietly gathering against one of the most cherished safeguards of liberty in our government–the right of a political minority to have a voice. Until now, this has always been the defining characteristic of the Senate. That’s why all senators have traditionally defended the Senate as an institution, because they knew that the Senate was the last legislative check for political minorities and small states against the kind of raw exercise of power large states and majority parties have always been tempted to wield.” (McCain Floor Statement, April 2017). This quote from Sen. McConnell completely contradicts this statement when he called for a vote to lower the bar for cloture for Supreme Court nominees and on April 6th of 2017 in a vote of 52-45 the Republican majority followed in the footsteps of the Democratic party that they decried 4 years earlier. I agree with both Sen. McConnell and Sen. Alexander in regard to their comments on the action taken by the Democratic party in 2013.
    Unfortunately, McCain ultimately towed the party line and sided with the Republican majority on the vote pertaining to cloture. This action further reduced the power of the filibuster. In my opinion I don’t see the filibuster as an anti-democratic tool. This issue I see is unwillingness to work together in order to move forward. One side holds no more blame than the other when it comes to the unwillingness to carryout bipartisan work in Congress. This refusal to work together has led to the abuse of the filibuster and the reduction of the voice of the minority. Throughout the entire history of our country the ability to compromise has been an integral part of our country and in recent times it seems like we have forgotten how to do that. Politics is not meant to be easy, which is why these high thresholds were established in the first place.


  5. The filibuster rule is something that has been in effect for numerous decades, that has often stopped legislative actions from passing within the Senate. Many individuals, including president Trump, believe that the rule is archaic and should be abolished. The filibuster is a rule that seems to continuously frustrate many individuals from all sides of the ideological spectrum. Some individuals would like to keep the rule in place in order to continuously stop certain legislations from happening, however, many simply view the rule as a waste of time.

    I personally believe that the nation should absolutely do away with the filibuster rule and force the Senate into being able make decisions in a timely matter, instead of forcing a legislative bill to expire. For example, the Republican take on health care and the Affordable Care act could have become much simpler and more precise had the filibuster rule been eliminated (Matthews). Matthews explains in his article that the use of the filibuster prevented Congress from being able to create a new healthcare bill while also finding a way to continue to fund Obamacare. He further explains how the filibuster is so terrible becomes of the amount of time it wastes.

    Ultimately, I believe that the filibuster rule should be eliminated because to keeps the nation at a stand still. New legislations will continue to be proposed, while the filibuster will continue to keep the Senate locked. In order for the country to make changes, the rule must be abolished. With its abolishment, will follow better and more solid power moves on both sides of the spectrum, allowing for a better flow and new ideas for the country.

    Matthews, Dylan. “Donald Trump Is Right: Senate Republicans Should Kill the Filibuster.” Vox, Vox, 2 May 2017, http://www.vox.com/policy-and-politics/2017/5/2/15515834/filibuster-kill-abolish-nuclear-option-trump-mcconnell.

  6. The fiibuster is a tactic that has been used for decades now to stall the passing of legislative actions in the Senate. Although we can argue both viewpoints I believe the biggest argument that can be made to keep the filibuster is that “it works”. As annoying as it might be if someone who is in office is complaining about it such as Trump, then it must be doing its job. I believe the filibuster is a viable way for a minority party in Congress with a dissenting opinion to get their point across. Although it is time consuming and typically a gridlock for issues, the filibuster is what keeps everyone on their toes. The filibuster is what democracy is all about in the essence that it gives a voice to the minority party. For example if there were no filibuster the president’s party would have that much of an easier time to get their particular laws enacted. As we learned in the lecture 4 power point, filibuster is being used more and more to the point of being abused and Trump is fed up with it. As he has been arguing for the abolishment of it, Senate Majority leader Mitch McConnell has been firm on his decision to remain stagnant. Ironically Mitch is also a republican who has remained stern on the 60 vote procedural threshold to rid filibuster.

    In conclusion I believe the filibuster is something that’s needed to check and balance the enactment of legislature. The ideology of the filibster is to halt any proceedings that might be unfavorable to the majority of the population. In the article McConnell claims, “the votes are not there” shielding any possibility to abolish the filibuster.

  7. In recent years, there have been discussions on whether to get rid of the filibuster in Senate. A filibuster is when the minority party of the Senate gets the chance to stall legislation from passing for as long as they wish. Often, senators who are filibustering talk for hours on unrelated topics, or even read a Dr. Seuss book. To end a filibuster currently, the majority must obtain 50 votes to regain control over the legislation. In other circumstances, a senator can hold a filibuster in order to get his (or her) own policies included in the legislation before they approve a vote. It appears that having a filibuster isn’t a productive or fair practice to have in our government. However, the right to filibuster is a protective means to ensure that the minority of the Senate have their voices heard.

    One main reason for why eliminating the filibuster isn’t a good idea is that there are still other options for a senator to stall the legislation process. A senator can still stall a debate during the Motion to Proceed procedure and can vote against the legislation after the cloture is issued. Having the filibuster option gives the senators more time to consider the legislation before finalizing a decision, which can save the American people a lot of money and freedom if said law is an infringement on our civil liberties.

    Another point in wanting to preserve the filibuster right is that the majority in Senate will eventually change. Once Republicans are out of the majority, they will want to use the filibuster option to stall a debate on legislation not in their party’s policies. The same goes for Democrats for when they are in and out of the majority.

    All in all, the right to filibuster should be kept an option and a part of the Senate. Regardless how the rule was originally outlined, it is an essential form of debate that keeps the minority party in the loop of the legislation process. Rushing through the legislation process to get a bill passed quickly is not rational and can be potentially epidemic. Shutting up the minority in Senate in order to benefit one’s majority-run party may benefit them today, but tomorrow is not promised, and neither is their seat in the Senate.


  8. What is a filibuster? A filibuster is an effort by a minority of lawmakers to delay or block the Senate from voting on a bill or a confirmation. By exploiting the chamber’s rules for full debate on an issue, the minority can indefinitely obstruct something that has majority support. The Senate filibuster is perhaps the best known and most controversial legislative practice Senators can engage in. (NYT)
    Aside from helping the minority party push their agenda, it also grants publicity to issues the general public wouldn’t pay too much attention to otherwise.

    Filibustering in my personal opinion is really just another way of blackmailing the other party and of refusing to take responsibility for governing – and that is precisely the type of dysfunction that gives democracy a bad name. As long as we maintain a two-party system, things will never change. When Democrats are the majority, Republicans will do all in their power to filibuster their legislation, and vice versa. Take the “procedural filibuster”, where they don’t even have to debate, they just threaten to filibuster to make the other side back down. If one can design rules that ensure only a “real” filibuster takes place, it works. If one can’t, it should be eliminated entirely. It is a vicious cycle. On the other hand, some might argue that filibustering is an essential part of democracy that is embedded in our political system and that debating over laws proposed by the opposing party is quintessential.

    The call for elimination has been around for decades, and unsurprisingly it has always been the party in power asking for it. But when the other party is in charge, the calls for elimination stops, since it gives them leverage.

    The Senate was designed to protect the minority party from the “tyranny of the majority” and therefore the minority retains the right to filibuster as a check on the controlling party. Filibustering, with all the criticism its drawn in times of political gridlock, has been an important too for maintaining a system of checks and balances of power within the government.

    In conclusion, I believe that finding an alternative similar to filibustering is the solution. Or maybe the two governing parties can try and work together and think of their constituents instead of furthering their own political agenda.



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