The pros and cons of maintaining the filibuster in the U.S. Senate have reached the forefront of political discussion as never before — and with good reason. Whether one believes that the filibuster protects the minority from the so-called tyranny of the majority or provides a means for the minority to obstruct the majority, the filibuster clearly is anti-democratic.
The filibuster is not part of our Constitution. It simply is a Senate rule upon which the Senate has carved out exceptions over the years, most notably for Presidential nominations and budget matters. The latter is referred to as reconciliation, which is how President Biden’s $1.9 trillion pandemic relief bill was enacted by a simple majority, as was the Republicans’ $2 trillion tax cut for the ultra-rich in 2017.
The rule allowing a filibuster may have made sense in the early 1800s when the U.S. was not divided between two parties. Political coalitions were much more fluid in the early days of our nation and compromise was common among senators.
However, after the Civil War, the battle lines were drawn between Democrats and the newly-formed Republican party (which only had come into existence in 1854), principally on the issue of race — with the Democrats from the Solid South coalescing around the issue of segregation.
The so-called Dixiecrats — embodied by Senator Strom Thurmond of South Carolina — used the filibuster from the 1940s through the 1960s in an attempt to stymie Civil Rights legislation, especially the Voting Rights Act.
Though the racist efforts of Thurmond and others ultimately failed (only because the Senate obtained a 2/3 majority to end filibusters on those issues), the filibuster likely will be employed by Senate Republicans to obstruct voting reform measures that are necessary today.
The national Republican playbook to limit voting among non-white citizens once again is surging. Republican state legislators have filed more than 200 bills that would restrict voting in the coming elections in their states.
The very foundation of our democracy rests on the right of every citizen to vote. Legislation presently before Congress would ensure that voting rights are not abridged in any state. However, thanks to the arcane filibuster rule, the passage of a new Voting Rights Act faces little chance of success in the Senate. The truth is this: The anti-democratic state efforts to limit voting rights most likely will be allowed to proceed because of the anti-democratic filibuster rule in the U.S. Senate — and unless the Democratic majority in the Senate takes steps to abolish the filibuster rule, the United States will have a democracy in name only.