A Brief History of the Filibuster

While writing about the Teabag Terror town hall disruptions at the Washington Post, Harold Meyerson offers a concise history of the filibuster. I rarely clip a passage this long.
The rise of the filibuster should give constitutional originalists some pause. When the Senate first convened in 1789, just months after the Constitution was ratified, its rules allowed for calling the question (ending debate) by a simple majority vote. The Constitution had taken care to specify five kinds of issues that did require a two-thirds supermajority: treaty ratifications, expulsions of members, impeachments, the override of presidential vetoes and constitutional amendments. The Senate adhered to its simple majority rule for question-calling until 1806, when the rule lapsed because it seemed unnecessary: Scarcely any votes to call a question had been taken in the 17 years of the Senate’s existence.

With that, the possibility of the filibuster was born, but filibusters didn’t really come into use until Southern senators began using the maneuver to attempt to block civil rights legislation of the 1950s and ’60s. They only became routine in the past few years, as the minority party in the Senate — the Democrats until 2006, and the Republicans since — sought to block legislation that had majority support but not the backing of a supermajority. In the 2007-08 session of Congress, Republicans forced 112 cloture votes, nearly doubling the Democrats’ record when they were in the minority.

Simply put, that number means that the Senate now runs by minority rule. A more corrosive attack on the first principle of democracy, that of majority rule, is hard to conceive. The increasingly routine use of the filibuster stymies the efficacy of government (in itself a conservative objective) and negates the consequences of elections. (Emphasis mine)

Read the entire post here.

About Matt Osborne

Veteran blogging the culture wars from Alabama. Video journalist, mash-up artist, aspiring novelist, and metalhead. Expect bunnies, geekery, dark humor, and snarky empirical analysis to annoy idealists of all stripes. You can follow me on Twitter, but be ready 'cause it might get loud.
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  • ZIRGAR

    The Founders must assuredly be rolling over in their graves!