Abigail Sanchez
Opinions Editor

The debate over what to do with the filibuster has been going on since perhaps the filibuster first started.

In his first press conference on March 25, President Biden indicated that he would support eliminating the filibuster should the Senate Republicans continually use it to block Democratic bills from receiving a full vote. President Biden even took it a step further to say that the filibuster is being abused in “gigantic ways.” However, he also supports a “talking filibuster,” which would require a senator to speak for an extended amount of time in order to block a bill from being voted on.

President Biden defends this position by saying that a “talking filibuster” would force senators to talk until they are not able to anymore, and then the Senate can proceed with a vote. Yeah, no. The filibuster may be what allows lawmakers to block bills that may prove harmful to the people, but it also aids lawmakers in blocking bills intended to help and reform. Ultimately, when push comes to shove, the filibuster, of any kind, must go.

How did the filibuster even start? Well, contrary to what people may say, it was not created when the Constitution was written; rather, it was created purely by mistake. In 1805, Vice President Burr laid out a series of suggestions for making congressional rules much more effective. One of these suggestions was taking out the “previous question” motion, which allowed a simple majority to end debate on a topic and force a vote. While the House of Representatives didn’t take Burr’s suggestion, the Senate did — because, sure, let’s take the advice of a guy who just recently murdered a founding father. By taking away this rule, it allowed Senators to suddenly block bills from being voted on by talking on and on with no limit.

Its frequent use in the late 19th and early 20th centuries led to the Senate to enter a debate over whether to reform or completely eliminate it. In 1917, at the fierce urging of President Woodrow Wilson, the Senate adopted Rule 22 which required, at the time, two-thirds of senators to vote on a “cloture” motion, which would end debate. However, it only allowed the minority party in the Senate to block cloture motions, effectively filibustering bills they did not want to pass. In 1975, it was later changed to three-fifths of all senators that were sworn in, or 60 of the 100 senators fully sworn into office. 

With the Senate split fifty-fifty, it will be hard for Democrats to find 10 Republicans willing to support a cloture motion. They will especially have trouble if even one or two Democrats, such as Sen. Joe Manchin, the most conservative of Democrats, supports blocking a cloture motion. Congress has many national issues that need addressing (systemic racism, immigration, voting rights, climate change, etc.), and the filibuster is only getting in the way of passing bills that can address these issues effectively. If we want Congress to be more effective in addressing issues that affect the people, then the filibuster needs to be one of the first things to go.

Not only does the filibuster get in the way of Congress making effective decisions, but it also has a racist history. Democrats, such as Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-MA), have argued that the filibuster has been used as a tool to protect white supremacy. On March 23, Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) denied this claim, stating that the filibuster “has no racial history at all. None.” Really? Does he not know that the award of the longest speech goes to former Sen. Strom Thurmond (R-SC), who spoke for 24 hours and 18 minutes in an attempt to filibuster the Civil Rights Act of 1957?

On that note, someone also needs to let Sen. McConnell know that, in the 19th century, the filibuster was mostly used by the pro-slavery faction to block measures that would threaten the South’s dependency on slave labor. In fact, at least 40 filibusters were identified between 1837 and 1917; and of those 40, a quarter targeted racial issues. The Senate was only able to pass measures such as the Civil Rights Act of 1964 after fighting against filibusters from senators supporting segregation. Just last year, Sen. Rand Paul (R-KY) blocked the Emmett Till Antilynching Act, which would make lynching a federal hate crime.

There is no doubt, though, that the filibuster has also been used to block potentially harmful bills from becoming law. Anti-abortion laws introduced by Republicans have been stopped through the use of the filibuster by Democrats. In the last four years, the Democrats have used the filibuster to block Trump policies from passing the Senate floor, such as the border wall project and restricting abortion access. Without the filibuster, the next time Republicans take control of Congress, it will be easier for them to pass legislation that could counter the progressive policies Democrats are trying to pass.

The debate over the filibuster basically puts us all between a rock and a hard place. Should we get rid of it so we can pass progressive policies that could help bring effective reforms to society, or should we keep it so we can block policies that will make this country take a step backwards in terms of progress?

Republicans have recently been pushing for more voting restrictions in order to make their party the winners of the next elections. However, Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY) intends to bring to the Senate floor a massive voting rights and government reform bill, which will no doubt face major Republican opposition and a filibuster on their part. Without the filibuster, though, these kinds of bills will be able to pass, which would increase voter turnout among communities whose votes have historically been suppressed. This can aid in voting out lawmakers who care nothing but their own interests and are anything but for the people. At the end of the day, the filibuster must be struck down.

Featured Image: Courtesy of Sage Amdahl / Quaker Campus

Author

  • Abigail Sanchez

    Abigail Sanchez has been writing for the Quaker Campus since fall 2019 and is currently the Opinions Editor of the Quaker Campus. She is also a freelance writer and has written for two feminist media platforms. She enjoys writing about political and social issues that affect the country and her community. In her spare time, Abigail likes to listen to music, read books, and write fictional stories.

Abigail Sanchez has been writing for the Quaker Campus since fall 2019 and is currently the Opinions Editor of the Quaker Campus. She is also a freelance writer and has written for two feminist media platforms. She enjoys writing about political and social issues that affect the country and her community. In her spare time, Abigail likes to listen to music, read books, and write fictional stories.

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