Last night, U.S. Sen. Jim DeMint of South Carolina sent a message to his fellow senators, informing them that between now and Election Day, he intended to block votes on any legislation that he did not personally approve beforehand.
And under the arcane, archaic and anarchic “rules” of the Senate, one solo senator actually has the power to do so. Those rules are artifacts of a collegial Senate that disappeared long ago and is never returning, especially if DeMint and others have their way.
For months now, DeMint has made it pretty clear that he intends to challenge Minority Leader Mitch McConnell for de facto if not official control over the Republican Senate caucus come January. This current power play is just another step in that effort.
McConnell, you see, is much too accommodating for DeMint and others like him. In the four years that McConnell has served as Republican leader, they have turned to the filibuster to block Senate votes a mere 257 times, which is hardly nine times more than the total from 1919 to 1960.
And with more than 100 vacancies on the federal judiciary, a vacancy level that is making it difficult to conduct court business, the Senate has confirmed “fewer judges … during President Obama’s first 20 months in office than during any administration since Richard Nixon’s,” which further proves that McConnell is an Obama lackey.
And just to be clear: Filibusters, holds and other devices used to block votes in the Senate are not constitutional provisions. To the contrary, the Founding Fathers who drafted the Constitution distrusted requirements for a legislative supermajority, and limited their use to only a handful of very specific cases and well-defined cases, such as passage of treaties, impeachment and removal of a member.
“To give a minority a negative upon the majority (which is always the case where more than a majority is requisite to a decision), is, in its tendency, to subject the sense of the greater number to that of the lesser,” Alexander Hamilton warned in Federalist No. 22, explaining why he and other drafters rejected its use in most cases.
In Federalist No. 75, Hamilton wrote that “all provisions which require more than the majority of any body to its resolutions, have a direct tendency to embarrass the operations of the government, and an indirect one to subject the sense of the majority to that of the minority… And the history of every political establishment in which this principle has prevailed, is a history of impotence, perplexity, and disorder.”
In Federalist No. 58, the “Father of the Constitution,” James Madison, himself takes up the cudgel against requirements for more than a majority to conduct business.
“In all cases where justice or the general good might require new laws to be passed, or active measures to be pursued, the fundamental principle of free government would be reversed,” he warned. “It would be no longer the majority that would rule: the power would be transferred to the minority. Were the defensive privilege limited to particular cases, an interested minority might take advantage of it to screen themselves from equitable sacrifices to the general weal, or, in particular emergencies, to extort unreasonable indulgences.”
Smart guy, that Jamie. He would no doubt react in horror to what DeMint and others are attempting to do to his creation, particularly since they claim to be acting in defense of the very Constitution that they trod upon.