Democrats should abandon the fight to abolish the filibuster
As Senate Democrats scramble to push through their legislative agenda as the midterm elections fast approach, they have considered the nuclear option — abolishing the Senate filibuster. The death of the filibuster would leave them free to push their policy agendas through Congress, setting them up to claim victories from their constituents as they seek re-election, but at what cost to the future of the national legislature?
The Democrats’ efforts seem short-sighted — they won’t be in power forever, a reality that’s becoming increasingly evident as Nov. 8 approaches. To protect both the future of their party and the country, Senate Democrats had better give up their fight to abolish parliamentary procedure.
First, the filibuster embodies the Republican principle of protecting minority rights despite majority rule. Although majority governments are known to be more productive and efficient, people like former Treasury Secretary Lawrence Summers say they are also endowed with the power to pass the “burst of laws” so commonly associated with “authoritarian regimes”. “.
Even James Madison noted this potential flaw in Federalist Papers Nos. 9 and 51, arguing that majority rule, though an expression of the majority of interests involved, can also “coordinate and implement patterns of oppression against minorities. This threat, Madison observes, is particularly evident in cases of competing political factions. He argues that when “the stronger faction can easily unite and oppress the weaker, anarchy can truly be said to reign”.
Although not specifically mentioned in the Constitution, senatorial filibuster nonetheless embodies the constitutional theme of restrained power. In this case, the filibuster offers additional control over the majority party in the Senate, protecting the interests of the minority.
As the majority party not controlled by the filibuster, the Democrats can force any bill on their legislative agenda to pass, omitting the participation of Republican senators in the legislative process. Therefore, without the filibuster, “minority rights will be precarious”.
While Senate Republicans today risk suffering from the removal of the filibuster, the efforts of the Democrats are short-sighted as they are the victims of tomorrow. Half-terms rarely benefit the ruling party. In fact, the president’s party has won congressional seats in a midterm election only three times in the last century, while the American public controls the power of the president.
In 2022, with majorities already wafer-thin (with just a nine-seat advantage in the House and a single deciding vote in the Senate), Republicans are poised to regain a majority in one or both chambers. And even if the Democrats manage to keep the majority this year, they won’t have it forever. Sooner or later, the Senate will return to Republican hands – the United States could see a united Republican government as early as 2024.
Democrats, as indeed they have done in the past, will again praise the filibuster as a shield protecting the country from the united will of a united Republican majority. In the past, party leaders have often praised or cursed the filibuster based on their party’s majority or minority status in the Senate, only to reverse their position in a few years when that status changes.
We all recognize the threat that failure to pass necessary and overdue legislation on suffrage, women’s reproductive rights, and LGBTQ+ equality will pose to our democracy. However, I write in support of the filibuster to ensure that when these changes are made, they will endure and be built on deliberation. Otherwise, these same bills, which we believe will save our democracy, will doom it once majorities in Congress change every two years.
While these issues undoubtedly deserve attention, any future Congress could repeal these legislative efforts and replace them with an agenda focused on reversing these policy goals. The only sure way to ensure lasting legislative change is to ensure that the legislation stands up to the scrutiny of robust debate and hard-won consensus.
In summary, we must heed Madison’s warnings lest the Senate succumb to the whim of a “self-serving and authoritarian majority.” The obstruction must be preserved.
Justin Guerra is a political science student at the University of Florida.
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