OPINION: Get rid of the filibuster, let the majority do its job

Illustration of Senator Jeff Merkley, a proponent of ending the filibuster.

Illustration of Senator Jeff Merkley, a proponent of ending the filibuster.

Jayvon Rankin

News has been going around ever since the Democrats regained control of the United States Senate about the filibuster and if it will survive this next session of Congress. In my view, the filibuster rule is one of past and a racist relic of institutionalism of the Senate. Democrats should abolish the filibuster and let majority-rule reign in the United States Senate once and for all. 

During the founding of this country, the Founding Fathers were insistent on the idea of bicameralism. The Sherman Compromise set up the two body legislature which we uphold today. It created the House of Representatives and the United States Senate. The House is based on population and the Senate giving each state two senators, the House being the “lower chamber” and the Senate being the “upper chamber.” The Senate, though, was given one special power by being the upper chamber, unlimited debate. They could talk for however long they could, without interruption. That is what the filibuster meant in 1789, not so much today. The modern filibuster was created in 1917 to limit debate on contentious issues, this is called the “cloture rule,” at the time you needed 2/3rds of Senators duly chosen and sworn to close debate on a bill,  which at the time was not hard to achieve. Back then, cloture was hardly ever needed as all you needed was unanimous consent, which occurred much more often.

The filibuster has been used to attempt to block very serious and consequential legislation. In 1957, Strom Thurmond, a notable racist from South Carolina filibuster the Civil Rights Act of 1957. In 1964, a group of Senators, including Former West Virginia Senator Robert Byrd filibustered the Civil Rights Act of 1964. Currently, Republicans are threatening to filibuster any bills passed by the Democrat-controlled House. The bills include Universal Background Checks, H.R. 1 a massive voting rights, and are even threatening to filibuster infrastructure plans. In a 50-50 Senate, the odds of overcoming a potential filibuster are slim, unless they get 10 Republican votes to end debate on those bills. 

At this point, you don’t even have to show up to filibuster a bill, and many Senators don’t. Since you need 3/5ths of Senators “duly chosen and sworn” to close debate on a certain bill, more often than not you won’t be able to do so because you’d need some sort of bipartisan consensus, which is again difficult due to the highly partisan nature of Washington. That brings me to my next point.

Those who praise the filibuster such as Sen. Joe Manchin  and Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell say it promotes compromise and better legislation, I disagree, a lot. I would test anyone to look at big pieces of legislation over the past ten years and see which ones gained bipartisan support in the Senate. The Affordable Care Act was passed along party lines in 2010 and partially passed with a tool called “Budget Reconciliation”. The Trump tax cuts were passed along partisan lines in 2017 when Republicans held both houses and the Presidency, and most recently when Democrats regained control of the Senate, and won the Presidency, along partisan lines, passed the American Rescue Plan through the Budget Reconciliation path. Nothing momentous as those pieces of legislation has passed with both parties working shoulder to shoulder and compromising, it just hasn’t happened. 

Democrats and Republicans are both to blame for these problems, they’ve both nuked portions of the filibuster. Democrats waived the 3/5th’s requirement for cabinet nominations and all advice and consent judgeships except for the Supreme Court. Republicans, in 2017 to advance the nomination of then-Judge Neil Gorsuch waived the 3/5th’srequirement for Supreme Court nominations. So, both parties should stop playing games and end the undemocratic filibuster once and for all and let the majority rule.

There are a few pro-filibuster Democrats, including Sen. Joe Manchin and Sen. Krysten Sinema of Arizona who has vowed that they will uphold the filibuster, which would be detrimental to passing key pieces of Democratic legislation. These are must-pass items, and an old relic of the past should not be holding up democracy. The people re-elected a Democratic House, elected a Senate majority and elected Joe Biden to the Presidency. Democrats were given a clear mandate and should be able to deliver.  Reach out to your Senators and make them explain to you why they support such an undemocratic measure which has time and time again tried to stop you from gaining your basic rights.

Featured Image Citation: “Jeff Merkley Filibuster Buster” by DonkeyHotey on Flickr is licensed under Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 Generic. No changes were made to the image. The use of this photo does not indicate photographer endorsement of this article.