I disagree with Hightower.

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Tuesday, January 4, 2011


The modern filibuster is not what it was in the days of my youth. Then it was basically the right of (almost) unlimited debate in the Senate. That is, a member or group of members could talk a proposal to death. But they could do so only if they were willing to take the floor and hold it continuously while talking about anything they chose to talk about (no bathroom breaks). Strom Thurmond set the record for a single senator filibuster of 24 hours and 18 minutes in 1957.
Debate was not completely unlimited because it was possible for a supermajority (2/3 and then reduced to 3/5 = 6o out of the 100 current senators) to impose “cloture” which set a fixed end to the debate and allowed a vote on the proposal. With the advent of television in the Senate the abuse of this right by a minority was limited because they were forced to actually make those arguments and they would be on c-span. So if you used the old style of reading the Bible or the phone book, then you would start to look foolish pretty quickly.

The rationale for all of this was that it protected the “rights” of a big minority (41 or more). They would have the opportunity to make their case and could not be steamrollered into silence.

I didn’t have too much of a problem with that old style filibuster because the restraints held down the use and abuse of it. Also, they did not use it against nominees for the Supreme Court until the corruption issue with Abe Fortas came up in the sixties. However, I wasn’t enthused about it either.

But then they changed the rule. Now you don’t have to actually filibuster, you can just indicate your intention to filibuster and it will then take 60 votes to bring the bill to the floor. You can hide while you bring the Senate to a halt. That is why they now say, correctly, that it takes 60 votes to pass a measure in the Senate. There are other things along this line but that is the basic issue

I am a firm believer in the rights of the minority.
But those rights should not include setting the agenda.
The filibuster needs to be, at least, restored to its previous form.
Perhaps even revised so that the minority could just slow it down a few days, but not stop it. Maybe on the first attempt at cloture require 60 votes, 3 days later require 55, and then 3 days after that require only 51.

Other opinions on this can be found at:
New Yorker

John Sununu


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