Filibuster in the US Senate

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EternalParadox

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I just read the news, and an interesting headline revolves around the current, very polarized fight over the right of a party to conduct in a filibuster in the US Senate. The current bill is the vote on President Bush's judicial nominees.

Politics on those nominees aside, I personally find the filibuster a very non-productive mechanism that should be done away with. Rather than facilitating a debate on the actual issue itself, senators use the floor time to distract and hold out the issue so that they don't even have to vote on it. A notable example, Strom Thurmund of N. Carolina holds the longest filibuster record, over 24 hours. What did he do? Read the telephone directory.

I personally believe that the US senate has better ways to debate a bill and to support and block its passage than threatening to ramble on the floor on off the wall topics. That only divides the parties more, and it doesn't ever revolve on the issue at hand. In the current senate, no party has a 2/3 majority to override a filibuster, and thus the mere threat of one sharply veers the issue to the filibuster itself.

So what do you guys thing about the filibuster? Do you find it a necessary mechanism for the US Senate? Should Congress change it? Or do you find it a good and proper way to block passage of legislations?

And please refrain on such comments as "the American government s**ks." That does not facilitate the discussion that is the intent of this thread.

EternalParadox
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  • May 24, 2005

shinsengumi

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No, it most certainly should not be done away with. Things that define frameworks for action and outline procedures should never be changed on a whim, because effective action requires confidence, and confidence cannot be maintained if people feel that the rules can be changed to suit their whims. This is true for all such framework documents, from rules of procedure to governing constitutions.

Simply stated, the filibuster is just a means of ensuring that when issues are brought to a close that they have broad enough support for passage. If a measure can't be passed by a simple up and down vote, and if it's important enough for one to attempt a filibuster, if it cannot garner the requisite votes for a successful cloture motion in the Senate, then it means more debate, negotiation, and compromise is needed such that a document that can gain greater support and therefore reflect the will of a greater percentage of the populace, may be crafted, presented, voted upon, and made into law.
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Edit: If you're interested in the debate over the nominees themselves, see http://forum.minitokyo.net/showthread/18879/

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I agree with shinsengumi here; the filibuster shouldn't be done away with. It serves a purpose, and a nessecary one at that.

At the same time, like any major parliamentary weapon, it should be used sparingly, and in a limited manner. Constant use dilutes the filibuster's potency, and reduces it from a major weapon that is used to block a piece of legislation that a good number of the Senate find abhorrent into a mere annoyance for the party that finds itself filibustered. When so reduced, it becomes politically possible for some to consider changing Senate rules to eliminate it without catching hell for it. Senator Frist still caught plenty of grief over the "nuclear option", from plenty of Republicans as well as Democrats, but it wasn't as bad as it could have been.

An example would be President Bush and the threat of a veto. If Bush says he'll veto something, legislators will take notice, since he has yet to veto anything that Congress has passed. By making a veto as uncommon as he has, he's added to the threat's effectiveness that commonly vetoing bills wouldn't. The same can be applied to filibusters; if they were rare, they'd be more effective; my making them common, the other side just thinks "yeah, so what else is new?" and would eventually get tired of it, just as they would after too many successive presidential vetos.

(Also, Strom Thurmond represented South Carolina.)

SilentMasamune

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The filibuster is needed in decision-making. Just because one person's judgment is completely different from another person's judgment doesn't mean that one person should take all the glory. The filibuster, also resulting in a two-thirds vote, helps to clarify what the majority of the Senate wants, so when 67 votes are attained, then whoever asked the Senate for a new legislation in government would get that proceeding. Otherwise, it is rejected. The members of the Senate may not be confident individually, but if they work as a team, they can draw conclusions based on the details of the situation. Some people will agree, and some people will not. So the filibuster should not be abolished.

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  • May 24, 2005

EternalParadox

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Good points, but I find that in recent years the filibuster has been threatened with increasing frequency in uses that deviates from its original purpose. The current nominees for example, the Democrats threaten the filibuster in order to not have a vote, which they believe they will lose. The debate that nearly led to a senate melt down last night was no longer on the issue of the merits that each nominee brings to the table but on the politiking of using the filibuster itself. It is true that filibusters can be effective if used on rare occasions. Unfortunately I find that is not the case in the current and past congress.

Like you all say, the point of the filibuster is to clarify the support for or opposition against a bill. But from what I see, each time the filibuster is used and or threatened these days, the political debate turns into a nasty mugslinging fest in which each party argues about the competence of members of the opposing party in choosing to use the filibuster. Senators, congressmen, and media on both sides turn the situation into a golden opportunity to throw bards at the other party without having to really discuss the issue which is causing the filibuster in the first place.

Yes it may be a bit extreme to abolish the filibuster completely. But I believe there at least needs be some mechanism that controls the use or threat of a filibuster. Filibuster was not created to prevent political debate. When "filibuster" becomes a media catch phrase like it has, it contains little meaning, far from the intent with which it was built into the constitution.

P.S thanks lordstyphon for correcting the constituency of strom thurmund. :)

EternalParadox
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  • May 24, 2005

skysong

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I agree with eternalparadox that the filibuster can really be overused, or used in corrupt ways. If they keep debating long enough, this might cause many of the judges to drop out altogether. If this is why the filibuster is being used in this circumstance, i think thats wrong, and the purposed of a filibuster is being abused. I don't think it should be done away with, but it also shouldn't be used just as a leverage for one party.

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  • May 24, 2005

EternalParadox

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Quote by skysongI agree with eternalparadox that the filibuster can really be overused,
or used in corrupt ways. If they keep debating long enough, this might
cause many of the judges to drop out altogether. If this is why the
filibuster is being used in this circumstance, i think thats wrong, and
the purposed of a filibuster is being abused. I don't think it should
be done away with, but it also shouldn't be used just as a leverage for
one party.

The point made here is why I believe that at least definite mechanisms need to be set in place for when a filibuster should or should not be used. Priscilla Owen, President Bush's nominee to the 5th US Circuit Court of Appeals, has been blocked 4 times in the 4 years since she has been nominated. I see the current use of the filibuster as a delay tactic, nothing more. Her merits, whatever they may be, has not been debated these four times, when they should have been.

I am also glad that a compromise has been reached, a vote of 80-18 today in the senate to end the filibuster and to continue with a vote on the actual nomination itself. :)

EternalParadox
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  • May 24, 2005

shinsengumi

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If we're going to be discussing filibusters, I think it's time to clear up some misconceptions about the filibuster and Senate rules and procedures.

Quote by melmachine18The filibuster is needed in decision-making. Just because one person's judgment is completely different from another person's judgment doesn't mean that one person should take all the glory.

First of all, the filibuster is not a rule per se in the Senate. Rather, it's the term used to describe a technique of utilizing a number of unique features in Senate rules, such as the lack of an instituted limit to speaking time for someone to whom the floor has been yielded and the utilization of motions of greater precedence in order to forestall a motion to close debate and move into voting procedures.

Quote by melmachine18The filibuster, also resulting in a two-thirds vote, helps to clarify what the majority of the Senate wants, so when 67 votes are attained, then whoever asked the Senate for a new legislation in government would get that proceeding.

Cloture requires a minimum of three-fifths, not two-thirds, of expected votes, and this is not modified by quorum.

s h i n s e n g u m i
Minitokyo Policy, Forum, Review, and Category Maintenance Moderator Emeritus

Do not expect to be applauded when you do the right thing, and do not expect to be forgiven when you err, but even your enemies will respect commitment, and a conscience at peace is worth a thousand tainted victories.

EternalParadox

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Quote by shinsengumi Cloture requires a minimum of three-fifths, not two-thirds, of expected votes, and this is not modified by quorum.

That is correct. The original cloture required a supermajority of 2/3, as passed on March 8, 1917. However, in 1975, the requirement for cloture was reduced to 3/5, or at least 60/100 senators. This is still difficult to obtain, the current senate composition I believe being 55 republicans against 44 democrats, with 1 independent.

Oh, however, when cloture is invoked on questions regarding changing senate procedure, a 2/3 supermajority is still required.

Quote by shinsengumiFirst of all, the filibuster is not a rule per se in the Senate. Rather, it's the term used to describe a technique of utilizing a number of unique features in Senate rules, such as the lack of an instituted limit to speaking time for someone to whom the floor has been yielded and the utilization of motions of greater precedence in order to forestall a motion to close debate and move into voting procedures.

which is why Huey Long recited Shakespeare and read out recipes, and strom thurmund even has a record of 24hours and 18 minutes in the first place. -_-

And it is used with too great frequency. as cited from the US Senate's reference page, http://www.senate.gov/pagelayout/reference/cloture_motions/109.htm, cloture has been motioned 11 times since March 4, 2005 by the 109th congress. I find that ridiculous.

EternalParadox
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  • May 24, 2005

destati

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Doing away with the filibuster would be a disastrous blow to minority rights in Congress. Currently, the political atmosphere in Washington is very polarized. I really hate it when votes are split cleanly down party lines; to me, that means that the politicians aren't actually debating the merits of the bill or nominee or whatever. For several of the judicial nominees in question, I don't believe that there would be any meaningful debate either. Republicans will vote to confirm just because they're Republicans, and Democrats will vote to deny just because they're Democrats. Abolishing the filibuster would make Congress essentially a blank check for whatever measures the majority party wants. Though the current Democrat use of the filibuster is higher profile than anything that I can think of in the past (well...maybe Strom Thurmond's 24 hour filibuster against a civil rights bill), it's hardly anything new. I think that both parties are overreacting.

Quote by EternalParadox
And it is used with too great frequency. as cited from the US Senate's
reference page,
http://www.senate.gov/pagelayout/reference/cloture_motions/109.htm,
cloture has been motioned 11 times since March 4, 2005 by the 109th
congress. I find that ridiculous.

Then you must really be ticked off by the 106th Congress, where in the month of June, cloture was motioned 11 times, and over the months of September and October, cloture was motioned 13 times.

BorisGrishenko

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My view is that the legislative filibuster is a good thing and the nominee filibuster is a bad thing.

The legislative filibuster is a tool in the sense that a chisel is a tool for a sculptor. A person is who he is, and cannot be shaped. Up or down votes on the person, who is who he is, is common sense. Legislation is instead a formative process which is in progress, while nominees are already formed.

And it isn't as if the Republicans wanted to completely take away the filibuster either. My understanding was that they only wanted to remove the filibuster in regards to nominees, not revoke the legislative filibuster. The Democrats weren't in a particular hurry to clarify that point, All that we really heard from them was notions that their rights were being taken away, which is not exactly so. The Constitution says nothing about a filibuster: it is a rule adopted by the Senate. The most the Constitution says on the matter is that the Senate can make the rules by which the body operates. It is not so much an inalienable right as it is a tradition, just as not abusing it to block nominees is. This is why those who supported revoking filibuster in regards to nominees are more inclined to refer to it as the "constitutional option" rather then the more emotionally charged "nuclear option" prefered by the Democrats and much of the media.

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  • Jun 05, 2005

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