The Lincoln Plawg - the blog with footnotes

Politics and law from a British perspective (hence Politics LAW BloG): ''People who like this sort of thing...'' as the Great Man said

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Tuesday, April 12, 2005
 

The unprincipled filibuster


Not since those pre-Luther days of the relics industry [1] has an aura of sanctity been so mendaciously laid upon such a tawdry trinket!

It's as if the Democrats have been taking lessons from carpet salesman extraordinaire, Ahmed Chalabi! Only the New Yorker's Rick Hertzberg, in advising the Dems, is prepared to call a spade a spade:
they ought to stay off their high horse about the sacred wonderfulness of the filibuster per se.

(He's suggesting to the Dems to get rid of the filibuster for all purposes when they get control back.)

There is no principle to be defended: and that fact is born out, of course, by the ample supply of gotchas available to the GOP from statements made against the filibuster by Democrats way back when they were in the majority [2].

The liminal difficulty for the canonisers of the filibuster is to establish exactly what is sacred:

My reading (start here) suggests that, for the first decade, the Senate operated with the previous question as part of its rules. The first recognised filibuster comes in 1841 (after five decades of Senate operation).

When Rule 22 came to be made in 1917, it applied only to measures, not to motions nor to changes in the Senate Rules themselves. The requirement for cloture was two-thirds of senators present and voting.
In 1949, as I discussed on February 21, a challenge resulted in cloture being extended to motions; but the requirement for passage was made two-thirds of senators duly chosen and sworn.

In 1959, cloture was extended to changes in the rules.

In 1975, the requirement for passage was reduced to three-fifths of senators duly chosen and sworn.

Later amendments reduced the scope of post-cloture filibusters.

Meanwhile, the use of the Senate hold over upcoming business has led to what Fisk and Chemerinsky call stealth filibusters - pressure for floor time being so acute that bills are kept off the floor merely on receipt of a threat of a filibuster until the numbers for cloture can be assembled.

Where's the principle in that lot?

  1. Sundry parts of Christ's body, pieces of Cross - all made in Vietnam...

  2. And these guys knew the score when they said such things: since the War, control of the Senate has changed hands nine times: 1947, 1949, 1953, 1955, 1981, 1987, 1995, 2001, 2003. And twice in the last four years!

    I've mentioned the GOP rap-sheet on Byrd; there's also a rundown of incriminating statements on filibusters from Ted Kennedy and various other Dems on Pieces of Flare.

    There will, of course, be a similar list of quotes praising the filibuster to the heavens made by Republicans during periods of Democratic control. But the Dems are the ones saying that the filibuster is principle, not chicanery; so they're the guys who have to come off principled.



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