Is the Filibuster Unconstitutional?

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Common Cause filed suit last week asking the Supreme Court to declare the filibuster unconstitutional.

The Washington Post‘s Ezra Klein plotted the history of the filibuster in a timeline (closer look) that graphs the growth in its usage since it became possible by a mistake made in 1806. According to political scientist Sarah Binder, the story is that shortly after his famous duel with Alexander Hamilton, Aaron Burr returned to the Senate and told them that their rule book was a mess and that they should clean it up.

One of the practices that got cut was something called the “previous question” motion. According to Klein, “[t]hat was the motion senators used to end debate on whatever they were talking about and move to the next topic. Burr recommended axing it because it was hardly ever used. Senators were gentlemen. They knew when to stop talking.”

View the graph after the jump.


filibuster history timeline

The Washington Post, Wonkbook Blog (Graph: Todd Lindeman; Data: Senate.gov)

It appears senators stopped being “gentlemen” about 25 years ago. Read more »

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  • fedupwithpoliticians

    End the filibuster! It is an abomination that serves no useful purpose in a Democracy. It has been used recently by a ruinous minority to control the will of the majority.  Also end their childish games of “pro forma” sessions of the Senate which is a childish game or pretense of being in session when they are not in session. Grow up Senate. You can teach people Latin but you can’t get adults that know Latin to behave as adults. 

  • Anonymous

    If President Wilson, the worst president of the last 100 years, was for cloture…then I’m against it.  The filibuster is one part of an overall attempt to limit the power of the federal government.  Something that it seems we have been unable to do.

  • Anonymous

    Hamilton and Monroe were spot on as I have witnessed what this supermajority rule to raise revenue has destroyed what we use to be called “The Golden State” Yes, California, the richest state in the Union but after 30 years of mostly all RepubliCon governorship it has crashed our republic into the ground and deep debt and no party takes responsibility for the debt while they spend us far and away and stick to us working stiffs who been getting screwed since 1981 by my state and our federal government as they left us in deep debt rather than a surplus to make our lives better. We are paying the price. Our party is shy of a supermajority in both houses because that’s how bad there name is here … lower than dog food. I asked the governor to raise taxes on the wealthy by 5% or more and makes sure any corporation or multinational pays taxes or else you’ll can be shut out of one of the biggest markets in the world as they us they use the commons (our resources) and put that cost on us. I also ask him to start a state bank like hope Jerry Brown who was the youngest governor in history back then is back trying to fix the mess that they left us. Arnold Schwarzenegger “refinanced our debt” rather than raise revenue as the constitution permits here and in Washington as it was George Washington and the founders who insisted that our federal government have the power to tax .. why? Because they had to beg the continental congress for money like a beggar when we took on the British empire. It comes with the territory and now it’s been perverted by this stupid silly rule. Let the party in power or members vote so that we know who’s responsible for lesgislation that’s good, bad or just plain ugly and then we the people can give the ones in power or those who voted for it a thumbs down or thumbs up.

    As Hamilton denounced the use of supermajority rule
    in these prophetic words:

    “The history of every political establishment
    in which this principle has prevailed is a history of impotence,
    perplexity and disorder.”

    That is a suitable epitaph for what has
    happened to the Senate.