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Senate Filibuster Protects Minority Rights

Senate Filibuster Protects Minority Rights


The founding fathers had a healthy fear of big central government. The reach of the King and Parliament from across the ocean was a cautionary lesson as they labored to create our constitution. Thus, they created a system filled with checks and balances not only among the branches of government but within the legislative branch itself. Article I lays out requirements that limit the powers of the federal legislature and its ability to act. Clearly they saw the Senate as a check and balance on the House of Representatives. They wanted to make it difficult for the central government to pass legislation.

The House is an institution where the majority rules. The protection of minority rights in the Senate has always been a critical difference between the two bodies. It provided that a small group, or even one, senator could force careful, slower consideration of any legislation. For more than 200 years, in different forms, the Senate has aggressively protected these minority rights. Often times it has been the two ends of the political spectrum who have united to protect minority rights in the Senate. Yes, it made it harder to pass legislation, a position many conservatives see as a good thing.

In a turn of events that would shock Senator Jesse Helms, a group of conservative voices have begun to suggest that the filibuster rules that protect minority rights in the U.S. Senate should be vacated so that a temporary Republican majority in the Senate can overturn the health care law, defund Planned Parenthood, and stop the President’s new agreement with Iran. The great irony is that if such a change were made and legislation was passed to reverse the health care law, defund Planned Parenthood and stop President Obama’s Iran agreement none of those goals would be achieved because of President Obama’s veto. What would be accomplished, however, is the destruction of minority rights in the Senate.

This is short sighted and wrong. Institutions that have served the country well for more than two hundred years should not be torn asunder especially when no purpose will be served by doing so.

Without Senate rules protecting minority rights, we wouldn’t have had just Obamacare, we would have single-payer, socialized medicine in the United States passed in 1994. We would have President Carter’s flawed energy plan with fewer jobs and slower growth for the last three decades. We would have national same-day motor voter registration. We would have no right to work in the United States, and the second amendment would have been eviscerated.

Eliminating, or even suspending, the rules that protect minorities in the Senate is a slippery slope that will end up sacrificing the Senate as a legislative body that protects minority rights, and will result in a Senate that is just a pale mirror image of the majority rule House of Representatives. It is much harder to get 218 votes in the House than it is to get 51 votes in the Senate. The reason is because in the Senate peer pressure is much more powerful that it is in the House. By its very nature and size the House is an institution where there are many small groups of members who have united to achieve their goals. As long as the group holds together, they can withstand enormous pressure from leadership, the White House and their peers. The Senate is an institution of ever shifting coalitions where members have individual rights and greatly value their independence. However, this makes them more subject to the peer pressure in the one place they are united, their party caucuses. This is the peer pressure that forced Democratic members of the Senate, who knew better, to bend to the pressure and blow up the Senate rules in November of 2013.

Now some conservatives are falling into the same trap and demanding that the rules that provide the checks and balances in the legislative system be repealed. This will mean over time that more and worse legislation will pass with raw majority power. It will make it much easier to pass legislation. Not what the founding fathers imagined or created. And it doesn’t have to be done. If the goal is to get rid of the ACA; it can be repealed by reconciliation. If the goal is to stop the executive agreement with Iran, then the next President should submit it to the senate as a treaty. If the goal is to defund Planned Parenthood, then revive the appropriations process and pass a bill to defund them and send it to a President who will sign that legislation. Don’t ruin the Senate and fail to achieve tactical, if extremely important, goals.



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