Monday, January 3, 2011

Limiting the Filibuster

The Senate will consider rule changes at the beginning of its new session that will require greater effort to mount filibusters. Now, any piece of legislation, amendment to legislation, executive branch appointment, or judicial confirmation can be blocked by a single senator that makes a phone call to the cloakroom stating an objection to a unanimous consent request to proceed to a vote. Such objections can even be filed by staff. Filibusters can be mounted at multiple stages of a bill's consideration -- on a motion to proceed to the bill, on bringing the bill to a final vote, on a motion to appoint conferees, on a conference report and so on.

The filibuster serves a purpose in our democracy by forcing the majority to consider minority viewpoints. And there is room in American politics for one brave voice to stand up in the face of public opinion to ensure that a miscarriage of justice is not being perpetrated. But the modern filibuster is being abused.

Now, when there is divided government and neither party could impose its will, even if there were no filibuster rule, is a time for these modest reforms to be implemented.

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