Monday, January 11, 2010

Different Views on the Filibuster

Our chapter on Congress discusses the role of the Senate filibuster in a deliberative democracy.
In the New York Times, Thomas Geoghegan argues that the current practice of the filibuster is unconsitutional:

It is instead a revision of Article I itself: not used to cut off debate, but to decide in effect whether to enact a law. The filibuster votes, which once occurred perhaps seven or eight times a whole Congressional session, now happen more than 100 times a term. But this routine use of supermajority voting is, at worst, unconstitutional and, at best, at odds with the founders’ intent.


Forty-one senators from our 21 smallest states — just over 10 percent of our
population — can block bills dealing not just with health care but with global warming and hazards that threaten the whole planet. Individual senators now use the filibuster, or the threat of it, as a kind of personal veto, and that power seems to have warped their behavior, encouraging grandstanding and worse.

In response to a similar article by Geoghegan, Prof. Wendy Schiller wrote the following in The New Republic (December 19 1994), right after the GOP took control of the Senate:

The Federalist Papers reveal that the greatest fear of the Founders was the oppression of the minority by the majority. The Founders established a complicated system of checks and balances precisely because they did not want an easy and efficient translation of majority will into government policy.

Now we have a situation where the Republicans claim to represent the majority will in this country. Would Geoghegan support a dilution of minority strength in the Senate today--post November 8, 1994? Democrats cannot forget that the very rules that enabled Alan Simpson to block health care reform will enable Ted Kennedy to block prayer in school. Which is exactly as James Madison thought it should be.