Filibusters: History, Purpose, & Controversy [POLICYbrief]
Articles,  Blog

Filibusters: History, Purpose, & Controversy [POLICYbrief]


The purpose of the filibuster is to contribute
to the Senate’s status as being the world’s greatest deliberative, legislative body. The filibuster is a rule that allows for indefinite
debate in the United States Senate. Anyone can debate a bill as long as they want
to debate a bill, uh, that is, until three-fifths of the members of the Senate vote to end debate
through a mechanism called cloture. In one form or another, the filibuster has
always existed in the Senate. Senators had the right to speak indefinitely,
and to extend debate as long as any one senator chose. The filibuster is certainly an important part
of the Senate’s history, and a part of its rule. It’s supposed to be a different kind of legislative
body. One in which, uh, extended, unlimited debate
is the norm. From its beginning, the Senate was a place
where any one senator could continue the debate on a legislative proposal as long as he or
she chose. And the final question on a legislative matter
was achieved only by unanimous consent. This required senators to do the hard
work of actually being on the Senate floor and continuing debate. Just a little over a hundred years ago, I
believe it was in 1917, the Senate adopted its first cloture mechanism. Originally, cloture required two-thirds supermajority. And, a few decades ago, that was changed again
to bring it to where it is now under Rule 22, which is that three-fifths of the senators,
or 60 out of 100, can vote to bring debate to a close. But the underlying principle has remained
essentially the same throughout the history of the Senate. The crux of the controversy surrounding the
filibuster really relates to the abuse of the process to bring about delay and to avoid
debate, rather than using the filibuster to fulfill its intended purpose, which is to
extend an promote debate. Article I of the Constitution is clear in
giving each house of Congress the authority to develop its own rules of procedure. Uh. Now, whether or not it’s used entirely in
a manner consistent with the Constitution may a be a different question. Some people have started to conflate the question
of how many votes it takes to end debate with how many votes it takes to pass a legislative
measure. Part of this is due to a misunderstanding
of how the Senate rules have been used, and part of this is due to an abuse of the filibuster
mechanism over time. It’s become more controversial as it has been more
routinely invoked, and even more controversial as it has become routinely invoked for the
purpose of delay, rather than for the purpose of extending actual debate. When members see it as simply a delay mechanism,
uh, or an impediment to actual debate, it undercuts the very purpose for which it was
created. When it becomes the norm, and people just
start to anticipate that you have to have 60 votes to pass anything, it starts to appear
unconstitutional. That’s really not the case. It takes 60 votes to close debate. There are other ways of bringing debate to
a close. The filibuster, if used properly, pushes the
Senate towards legislative consensus. That’s the whole idea behind it is to bring
people together, and to allow members to state their objections, to offer up improvements,
and eventually to get to the point where they decide further debate isn’t necessary. It’s served our nation well, and I think
it has for most of the history of our republic, done what it was supposed to do.

4 Comments

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *