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Lewis on Filibusters

Rep. John Lewis wins the prize for most dissonant pro-filibuster argument yet:

"Sometimes we can speak with one voice as a nation," said Congressman John Lewis (D-GA), "but there are times when our conscience requires us to take a different path. This nation has been made more fair, more just, more true to its own destiny by the voices of dissent that spoke out against injustice in America.  We have been made a better nation by those who fought to end slavery and legalized segregation, by those who struggled for the cause of human dignity and equal justice in America. It is our ability to make room for difference that has made us a beacon of light for people seeking justice around the world.  We cannot turn back now.   We do not want our elected representatives to be silenced.  We do not want the voices of dissent to be stamped out in the U.S. Senate, because we know it may be the minority that saves us from ourselves."
Ah, yes, the filibuster -- lifelong friend of the Civil Rights movement. Count me among the filibuster skeptics.

April 6, 2005 | Permalink

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Matthew Yglesias flags Rep. John Lewis, a hero of the civil rights movement, invoking civil rights in an argument defending the filibuster: Rep. John Lewis wins the prize for most dissonant pro-filibuster argument yet: "Sometimes we can speak with one [Read More]

Tracked on Apr 6, 2005 9:49:43 PM

Comments

Well, the filibuster is definitely problematic in a lot of ways, but from a practical standpoint it can be a good thing if it's used to mitigate, rather than exacerbate, the undemocratic nature of the Senate. So it's good if it's used by big-state Senators, and it's bad if it's used by small-state Senators. Which essentially means that on balance, Democrats should be allowed to use filibusters and Republicans shouldn't. The fact that that position is convenient for "my side" doesn't change the fact that it's the right position on the merits.

Posted by: JP | Apr 6, 2005 2:49:14 PM

Yeah, I read the piece earlier and thought you made a good case. However you have some assumptions I am not as comfortable with:

1) The liberals may someday regain power
2) The Republican can in the near-term screw the country irrevocably.
3)Unstated maybe: that if liberals do regain power, it would do them damage to switch positions at that point.

Posted by: bob mcmanus | Apr 6, 2005 2:54:56 PM

"If the filibuster is problematic, the presidential veto is more so." So, for your next philosophical exercise, Mr. Yglesias, compare and contrast, filibuster and veto. That will be worth 35% of the final grade.

Posted by: David in NY | Apr 6, 2005 2:55:39 PM

Ah, yes, the filibuster -- lifelong friend of the Civil Rights movement. Count me among the filibuster skeptics.
Make 'em an offer they can't refuse.

Harry Reid ought to offer the Republicans an end to the filibuster rule on all legislation.

We'll look back at this moment 10 years from now and wonder why the hell no one on the left gave serious thought to striking that kind of bargain.

Posted by: Petey | Apr 6, 2005 3:03:41 PM

Harry Reid ought to offer the Republicans an end to the filibuster rule on all legislation.

We'll look back at this moment 10 years from now and wonder why the hell no one on the left gave serious thought to striking that kind of bargain.


Practically, Petey, I think that's what the nuclear/Constitutional option does. Because I don't see any reason why the "point of order" approach that the GOP is using this year to stop filibusters of judges can't simply be used by Democrats to stop filibusters of all legislation when they finally get back control of the Senate.

Frankly, that's my main reason to oppose the nuclear option: if the GOP is going to get rid of filibusters for judges, they ought to get rid of it for everything, because the Dems won't hesitate to do to the GOP for some future legislation what the GOP is going to do to the Dems now with regard to judges.

Posted by: Al | Apr 6, 2005 4:19:33 PM

how to turn off itals?

Posted by: Al | Apr 6, 2005 4:20:37 PM

itals off

Posted by: mk | Apr 6, 2005 4:22:14 PM

Throughout history, the filibuster was mostly used by Southern racists to thwart Civil Rights legislation. Very rarely did a Sen. Jefferson Smith mount a filibuster for justice and right.

Nothing lasts forever. Not even Republican rule. If the Republicans want to shitcan the filibuster now, they will not have it once they are no longer in power. If that's the way they want to play it, it's perfectly legitimate to change the rules. They won't have that protection once they're out of power. In 2006, I hope.

They really need to change their mascot from the elephant to Esau though. Almost mechanically, this group sells its birthright for some trivial mess of potage. Debt. Dignity. Whatever. Short term pleasure? Here, let me see if I've anything of value left.

Posted by: Jeffrey Davis | Apr 6, 2005 4:43:59 PM

"If the filibuster is problematic, the presidential veto is more so." Compare and constrast.

The filibuster is a Senate rule; the presidential veto is constitutional mandate.

The main objection to ending the filibuster now is not high principle, but common fairness. Republicans are using the principle of majority rule to justify the grubby political end of appointing right-wing judges for life -- on Republicans' spin of the electoral wheel. The Democratic leadership ought to offer the Republicans a fair compromise: Agree to end the filibuster for everything, not just judges, prospectively -- following the 2008 (or 2010) elections. That way, a new president (2008) or an entirely newly elected Senate (2006, 2008, 2010) can run on the issue, and the people will decide.

Posted by: jcb | Apr 6, 2005 6:16:44 PM

jcb has the best "compromise" on filibustering, fair to everyone. But, back to Senate rule changes. Such changes have to follow Senate rules too, and the nuclear option doesn't do that. The nuclear option lets just 50 senators get the filibuster cloture rule changed, but senate rule changes require a super majority. This nuclear option is pure cheating and nothing more glamorous than that.

Posted by: Vaughn Hopkins | Apr 6, 2005 7:59:30 PM

You have to admit it would be interesting if radical environmentalists got control of a government that was lean, mean, and stripped for action. How about some mandatory minimums for corporate execs, and a little (oh hell, a LOT) of forfeiture for corporations, you know, just take away their property if you don't like what they are doing.

I guess the only way this could happen would be if the pubic was really riled up and desperate and didn't feel like either major party had talked about the future back when it could have been changed. Maybe it's a good thing that the American public is easily bought with shiny trinkets, and content to worship their primitive god in their simple way.

Posted by: serial catowner | Apr 6, 2005 8:06:07 PM

Hey, you can't dust off the point about the veto so easily -- it's undemocratic to a greater extent than the filibuster (requires a greater supermajority override). Just because it's in the constitutional doesn't mean it's automatically right. And if it is right, the filibuster is equally right.

Indeed, the filibuster is more justifiable than the veto, since it occurs before the law is passed and at least can be justified as a means of fostering actual debate on what should be done, preventing some unwise acts. The veto is just throwing up a big, undemocratic barrier, after the people's representives have acted.

I don't think the veto is so bad in a checks and balances way, and by the same token, I don't think the filibuster is so bad. Somewhat undemocratic, perhaps, but so are a number of aspects of our government, like the Senate, the Electoral College and the like. There is nothing inherent in the filibuster that means it can only be used for bad ends, rather than good. It is in fact quite neutral, and may be used for either. An occasional obstacle to raw majority rule is a good thing, and I don't think the filibuster is any worse than any other such device.

Posted by: David in NY | Apr 6, 2005 8:47:53 PM

And furthermore, I'd make the point that the filibuster is even more appropriate for judicial appointments than in other areas. Most judges are approved by wide margins. If a judge can only get the approval of 59% of the Senate, something is seriously wrong and she shouldn't be confirmed.

Posted by: David in NY | Apr 6, 2005 8:52:53 PM

Rosenfeld (if I got the name wrong, please forgive me, I can't click back to it) quotation:
Having the ability to ram through large legislative slates and enact big social programs that end up creating their own self-sustaining constituencies is, for reasons that should be clear, more important for an activist liberal party when it takes power than it is for a conservative business party when it’s running things. There is every reason to think that sometime at least in the mid-term future Democrats will come back to power in the Senate.

The last sentence in only true if Dems show some backbone. Killing the fillibuster nuclear option is a large opportunity to do that.

The first sentence ignores reality. We (Dems) currently have what should be a self-sustaining constituency based on all polls as to what people hold near and dear. We lose because people really do believe Iraq was involved in 9-11, that we are safer under Bush, etc. They are, in my opinion, wrong, and the evidence is rather overwhelming that I am correct. I guess what I am trying to say is that this "truth will win out" argument is very endearing, but also very slap-dash and ignorant at this point in the game.

People think Bush is a hero, Kerry is a wimp. People think the GOP is fiscally conservative, and that Dems are tax and spend. The also think Dems are pussies, they tend to hate gay people, and like to think that the US is economically invincible. Rosenfeld's idea that Dems should think along the lines that they will be in power soon goes against all of reality in political terms.

We are supposed to think in terms of the long-term good of the government when it is clear that the GOP is trying to govern like it is the end of history? Please.

Finally, is Rosenfeld actually trying to make an argument against the filibuster while supporting the tradition of the blue-slip? Explain, please, in terms of rational reasoning behind sacred Senate rules and principles.

Posted by: abjectfunk | Apr 6, 2005 10:30:30 PM

If Republicans were actually conservatives these days, they'd be in love with the filibuster. As a conservative myself, there is nothing I like more than gridlock.

Which makes Bush's refusal to use his veto power all the more maddening.

Posted by: Adam Herman | Apr 7, 2005 2:04:45 AM

"Just because it's in the constitutional doesn't mean it's automatically right. And if it is right, the filibuster is equally right."

I don't agree. The filibuster can be employed by a minority of Senators who are accountable only in their state. The president is elected across the whole country.

Posted by: Sebastian Holsclaw | Apr 7, 2005 2:06:46 AM

all this talk about the presidential veto calls to mind an older issue: does anybody remember why, exactly, the line-item veto as struck down? specifically, why was that considered unconstitutional whereas the veto of an entire piece of legislation is just fine?

it always seemed valuable to me in enabling the executive branch to force out into the open some of the provisions, that always find their way into big omnibus-type bills, that would never command anything close to majority support on their own. i know that sometimes it's the combination of many such items that make big compromises work, but there are a lot of procedural fixes for that, e.g. require another ratifying vote on the new version of the law after a line-item veto has been unsuccessfully challenged - so if the minority-supported item that was vetoed was significant enough to derail the whole package, the minority would still enjoy that leverage when challenging the line-item veto. but at any rate, procedural issues like that hardly seem to rise to the level of a constitutional problem, do they?

Posted by: Tom | Apr 7, 2005 8:10:33 AM

I still don't see the difference between the veto and the filibuster. You simply ignore the undemocratic nature of the veto. I think it's irrelevant that the President has been elected "across the country" (that is, by a majority of the undemocratic electoral college, but possibly by less than a plurality of voters) if he is issuing a veto of a bill supported by a majority of the population. In either case, filibuster or veto, the will of the majority may be thwarted, and sometimes that's a very good thing.

Vetos of popular but stupid or venal legislation are good; same with filibusters.

Posted by: David in NY | Apr 7, 2005 9:50:50 AM

This isn't about whether the Republicans think that the fillibuster is right or wrong, they just want to get some judges through. They will flip-flop on the issue as soon as it suits them.

Posted by: eric | Apr 7, 2005 11:26:15 AM

specifically, why was that considered unconstitutional whereas the veto of an entire piece of legislation is just fine?

Because the Constitution specifically provides for the veto of bills, it does not provide the President any power to usurp Congress prerogative in deciding and delimiting what is an atomic, indivisible enactment that he must accept or reject as a whole, nor does it permit Congress to delegate that authority.

Nothing stops the Congress from sending the President piles of single-line appropriations. Congress, however, can not Constitutionally hand its express Constitutional powers over to the President in the way it attempted to with the line item veto. The President and Congress cannot conspire to rearrange Constitutional powers; if they want to change the Constitutional arrangement of powers, they must resort to an amendment, like anyone else.

Posted by: cmdicely | Apr 7, 2005 2:38:48 PM

I don't think the veto is so bad in a checks and balances way, and by the same token, I don't think the filibuster is so bad. Somewhat undemocratic, perhaps, but so are a number of aspects of our government, like the Senate, the Electoral College and the like.

Given the disprortionate representation in the Senate, the filibuster makes it closer to requiring a majority by population represented of the Senate to approve a bill or nominee. Which, in a sense, makes it more "majoritarian" or "democratic".

Posted by: cmdicely | Apr 7, 2005 2:41:13 PM

"This isn't about whether the Republicans think that the fillibuster is right or wrong, they just want to get some judges through. They will flip-flop on the issue as soon as it suits them."

And some of you wonder why I'm not a Republican. I trust Ben Nelson and Joe Lieberman to look out for me a lot more than Delay and Frist.

Posted by: Adam Herman | Apr 8, 2005 2:30:52 AM

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