Filibuster, an obsolete political mechanism, exacerbates partisan divides

By Alaina Perdon
Elm Staff Writer

Among the most controversial political debates right now is that of the filibuster, a tactic in which a congress member prolongs a hearing on a piece of legislation to delay the voting process.

While “filibustering” used to mean speaking at length on the proposed bill, modern-day filibusters now more closely resemble carnival sideshows. Notably, Republican Senator Ted Cruz filibustered a 2013 hearing on universal healthcare for 21 hours. During the filibuster, he read Dr. Seuss’s “Green Eggs and Ham” in a desperate attempt to delay the Senate’s vote, making a mockery of the American legislative process.

The filibuster is an antiquated concept used as a weapon to propel party agendas. In recent years, it has almost solely been used by one political party to block the bills of the other that they disapprove of.

“One hundred percent of our focus is on stopping this new administration,” Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell said in May 2021 regarding his intentions for the Senate under the Biden administration.

McConnell’s sentiments are also reflected in the behavior of the Republican party under President Obama. The party used filibusters to squash major legislative proposals, including multiple higher court nominations.

According to the Washington Post, the Democratic party voted to eliminate the filibuster for judicial nominations in 2013. Republicans eliminated the filibuster for Supreme Court justices in 2017. Even across party lines, the opinion seems unanimous: the filibuster has no place in modern American politics.

Supporters of the filibuster say the tactic provides constraints on majority power. Without the filibuster, the majority party can pass legislation without bipartisan support if they can obtain 60 votes, leaving no room for negotiation or compromise.

“If a majority party knows they need to garner 60 votes to end debate on a bill, the necessity of working across the aisle, negotiating, and finding areas of agreement becomes imperative, rather than optional,” Rachel Bovard of The Heritage Foundation said. “Without the filibuster…the Senate becomes little more than a smaller version of the House of Representatives where legislation reflects the priorities of the majority, with little regard to concerns of the minority.”

But the filibuster as it exists today no longer supports a deliberative process; rather, it is another ostentatious political performance wrongly believed to be upholding democracy.

“Deliberation and decision have now converged; the line between them has become so permeable it no longer exists,” Stanford University Professor Jack Rakove said. “The simple fact that opposing senators no longer need to take the floor to filibuster…illustrates how little this procedure has to do with positive deliberation.”

More than anything, the filibuster could be seen as an obstruction of justice, disrupting the decision process as determined by the Constitution.

“Because majority rule was always the default option for passing a bill, a rule of deliberation that functionally preempts a majority decision becomes constitutionally problematic,” Rakove said.

While filibuster enthusiasts argue the process is a constitutional right of our lawmakers, the concept is simply never mentioned in the Constitution. The filibuster has no historical merit; it did not become a practice of the Senate until 129 years after the Constitution was ratified.

“Moreover, not only is the Constitution silent on the matter, but it prescribes supermajority votes only for very specific subjects, such as treaties, making clear that a simple majority is the expectation for other circumstances, including legislation,” Caroline Fredrickson of the Brennan Center for Justice said. “This indicates that supermajorities, as required by the filibuster, are otherwise disfavored.”

The nation is fraught with dirty politics on every level, and this backwards practice is only perpetuating partisan divides and preventing potentially beneficial legislation from being passed.

While it may have had a place in a time when there was still integrity in the American government, the filibuster is now but an inefficient version of its original self and a detrimental part of the senatorial process.

The political playing field has changed. The filibuster is not obsolete, but it is getting in the way of actual progress — and it is time to lay it to rest.

Photo courtesy of Flickr

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