John Lewis, Hank Johnson, Common Cause file lawsuit challenging Senate filibuster

My AJC colleague Bill Rankin has sent this copy of a just-filed federal lawsuit challenging the use of the filibuster in the U.S. Senate. Plaintiffs include the watchdog group Common Cause and three members of the U.S. House – including Democrats John Lewis and Hank Johnson of Georgia.

Other plaintiffs include three children of illegal immigrants living in the United States, who would benefit from passage of the DREAM Act – which would allow them to gain citizenship after going through college or serving in the military. The legislation has been blocked by the Senate requirement of 60 votes to begin or end debate in the Senate.

The lead defendant named in the suit is Vice President Joe Biden, who formally presides over the Senate.

Read the suit here. A small taste:

Both political parties have used [the filibuster] when they were in the minority in the Senate to prevent legislation and appointments proposed by the opposing party from being debated or voted on by the Senate.

For decades, southern Democrats used the filibuster to prevent a bipartisan majority of Democrats and Republicans from enacting anti-lynching, voting rights, and fair employment legislation. During the presidency of George W. Bush, the Democratic minority in the Senate also used Rule XXII to prevent the confirmation of numerous federal judicial nominees.

After Democrats won a majority of Senate seats in the 2006 elections, the Republican minority in the Senate used the 60 vote requirement in Rule XXII with unprecedented frequency to block Democratic initiatives.

Since the election of President Obama in 2008, the Republican minority in the Senate has objected to virtually every significant piece of legislation proposed by the Obama Administration and more presidential nominations than in any comparable period in history, all as a part of a strategy to make the Democratic Majority in the Senate appear to be ineffective, and to make President Obama a one-term president.

The lawsuit appears over the name of Emmet Bondurant, a prominent Atlanta attorney, who last year published a history of the filibuster in the Harvard Journal on Legislation. From that article:

What began in 1837 as a trickle of filibusters has now become a flood that has engulfed the Senate, and made it impossible for the Senate to pass any bill or resolution or to confirm any presidential appointee over the objections of even a single senator, absent the sixty votes necessary to invoke cloture.

There were only sixty filibusters (an average of 2 per year) in the first thirty years after the adoption of the cloture rule in 1917, and a total of only twenty filibusters (an average of 1.4 per year) during the next twenty years from 1950 to 1969. In the last twenty years, however, the filibuster has become the weapon of choice for the minority party in the Senate. Both Democrats and Republicans have used filibusters, and the threat of filibusters to prevent the majority party from passing legislation or confirming presidential nominees.

The number of cloture votes in the Senate has doubled in the last decade, and has risen to triple the number of cloture votes called for twenty years ago. Even more recently, the number of formal cloture motions has doubled since 2006. In 2009, the first half of the 111th Congress, there were a record sixty-seven filibusters—double the number that occurred in the entire twenty-year period between 1950 and 1969. The 111th Congress also eclipsed the 139 motions filed in the 110th Congress.

- By Jim Galloway, Political Insider

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48 comments Add your comment

Bobby

May 14th, 2012
2:04 pm

The Consitution states that each House determines it’s own rules of it’s proceedings (Article I, Section V). The Senate itself set the filibuster rule that requires 60 votes to end debate. Since it is a “House Rule” per the Constitution, the courts can do nothing about it.

ByteMe

May 14th, 2012
2:06 pm

This is the wrong way to solve the problem.

Want to solve filibusters? Require an actual filibuster — the party has to talk until they are finally voted off the stage — but turn off the live camera feed for it. Reporters can still be in there, just no live camera feed. Stop ALL Senate business until the filibuster is finished or the bill in question is pulled from consideration. The minority can then make their point without abusing the rules and without getting a giant ego boost from the free air time.

Marlboro Man

May 14th, 2012
2:16 pm

Any senator that wants a president to fail is a TRAITOR, as are his supporters.

jconservative

May 14th, 2012
2:20 pm

Bobby has it right on the Constitution. The Supreme Court will not touch this.

ByteMe has it right on the politics, force the filibuster to actually take place. That is what was done in the past and it usually ended with those filibustering giving up.

But actually any other Senate business is automatically cancelled while the filibuster is in process. And it must go one 24 hours a day with no days off until it ends.

Politics is never on the side of the filibuster because it totally shuts down any legislative action until it ends.

The problem today is that neither side wants to give up the threat of a filibuster because both sides know they will again be in the minority.

Aaron Burr V Mexico

May 14th, 2012
2:25 pm

OK, speaking as what might be acknowledged as the most ‘radical’ liberal who is a regular here, who thinks the whole constitution needs a reboot and who HATES, and I mean HATES the filibuster with every fiber of my being….

This is a *TOTAL* waste of time. The constitution is astonishingly clear on this point at least. The senate sets its own rules…no one else. The senate, if it wanted, could make people with the letter M in their name have two votes in committee instead of 1. The senate could make it so that people of a certain race or sex can’t vote in committee.

The SENATE makes its own rules.

The supreme court has NO say in that AT ALL.

Now, having said that, this garbage of only being able to vote on the rules at the beginning of a session is GARBAGE. A majority (50+VP) can change the rules AT ANY TIME.

There are MANY ways to fix it and almost all are better than what we have but performing a lawsuit on this is just mental contardation on the part of these legislators.

Attack Dog

May 14th, 2012
2:28 pm

What ever happened to the “nuclear option?” Isn’t it amazing who Dixiecrats voted against their own plans just because Liberals compromised?

Aaron Burr V Mexico

May 14th, 2012
2:29 pm

Although there is nothing that says that the representatives can say they’re suffering “Emotional Harm” and engage in a civil suit against the VP…the bar for that seems astonishing low….

JSH

May 14th, 2012
2:30 pm

Elect a good God fearing President and Senators and you won’t have to worry about a filibuster, because good legislation will come down the pipe. The crap they are trying to cram down our throats now need no vote.

Truth-O-Meter

May 14th, 2012
2:37 pm

I say make the filibuster stand and talk his/her head off. And yes, the cameras should indeed stay on so the public can finally see how many times these people stop progress and can see who they are!! The way things are now, cons are able to lie their way out of the mess by blaming the very party they are successful in obstructing.

Grandma may not read the paper, but she sure can recognize some one standing up for hours saying nothing, wasting taxpayers’ dollars.

Centrist

May 14th, 2012
2:38 pm

As the first poster, Bobby, pointed out – this is merely another grandstand tactic and the suit will quickly die. Democrats were the first to use filibusters to block nominees which was never the historical use. Filibusters have since expanded so that all major legislation and nominee picks will now require 60 Senate votes.

Truth-O-Meter

May 14th, 2012
2:39 pm

And go goodness sake the media needs to do it’s job and call these people out.

Truth-O-Meter

May 14th, 2012
2:41 pm

Should have said “for” goodness, not “go.”

Aaron Burr V Mexico

May 14th, 2012
2:43 pm

@Just Stay Home – Apparently that bit about the State Establishment of Religion doesn’t really mean anything to him….

And any God that makes you fear Him to worship Him, isn’t worth worshiping.

LeRoy

May 14th, 2012
2:59 pm

What goes around comes around. The democrats might well be in the minority this time next year.

If every democrat who wished Bush to fail were hanged as a traitor, we would have run out of rope.

Marlboro Man

May 14th, 2012
3:12 pm

Order more rope.

Aaron Burr V Mexico

May 14th, 2012
3:13 pm

@Marlboro Man – Order more of your product.

Aaron Burr V Mexico

May 14th, 2012
3:16 pm

Hint: Note the lack of name alteration there Marls.

Vince Lombardi

May 14th, 2012
3:27 pm

John Lewis arguing against the rights of the minority. How ironic……

dougmo2

May 14th, 2012
3:45 pm

Another example of Democrats not reading or understanding the Constitution.

Jack

May 14th, 2012
3:45 pm

ByteMe is right: it is about ego.

Look before I leap...

May 14th, 2012
3:48 pm

John Lewis needs a primary challenger.

That said, go up or down on the vote and move on.
The senate majority and minority leaders need to meet in the Rotunda and duke it out.
I like Reid’s chances here.

Marlboro Man

May 14th, 2012
3:52 pm

A traitor is a traitor is a traitor, whatever senator that came out and publicly said he wants President Bush to fail is a traitor, I just don’t see the name like we did this term.

junbug

May 14th, 2012
4:01 pm

Quoting, “Other plaintiffs include three children of illegal immigrants living in the United States, who would benefit from passage of the DREAM Act”

Why are they so stupid to not know the meaning of ILLEGA!

Look before I leap...

May 14th, 2012
4:13 pm

@Aaron

If you dispensed with the snark for a moment and stepped outside aura of your self-glorification, you’d note that I said Lewis needs a primary challenger, not that he did not have one.

Going Right

May 14th, 2012
5:15 pm

AARON: …and the money on the Republican side…

Glad you’re back. I don’t agree with you about 99% of the time but respect that you are steadfast a decent Socialist/Liberal. Also, I really don’t like arguing with a VN vet.

But, please tell us what you mean but the italicized remark you made (first line). I assume you are meaning that those filthy-rich Republicans have amassed a treasure trove of money to blast away at bin Obama. I suppose that’s Monopoly money that the Dimocrats are using and they are not, ahem, uh, well, using any of that play money to demean the Republican-assumed candidate now are they? If only there were some wealthy Dimocrats to help ward off those nasty Republicans! Drat!

20/20

May 14th, 2012
5:42 pm

Well, speaking of Brother John Lewis, he was profiled in a recent article in the USA Today (April 6) about “20 members of the House of Representatives who spent the highest and lowest percentage of their 2011 Office Budgets as of 12/31/11. Sad to say it was an unflattering expose that shows our esteemed Representative from the 5th. District, Brother Lewis, as leading the country with a 100.58% expenditure amount! Let’s hear it for the esteemed fiscal conservative. Wouldn’t you know that left-of-center newspaper listed the ten “Who spent the most” as being all Democrats? Nary a “fat-cat” Republican in the bunch. To rub salt in the wound, the “Ten who spent the least” included two Democrats…but EIGHT (80%) were those nasty, spendthrifts: Republicans!

I have written USA Today and complained bitterly about their bias in reporting. It just ain’t possible for that behavior to be limited (at the top no less) to Democrats! How about all you Socialist Lefties on this blog – including Galloway – write a complaint to that rag, OOPS, I’m not talking about the AJC here! I meant that publication (USA Today).

TruthBe

May 14th, 2012
6:06 pm

Jim as you know it was the Democrats that first used filibusters to stop legislation. Hank Johnson and John Lewis have used filibusters before to stop Republican bills and appointees. You and the democrats will do anything or say anything to make America into a socialist nation like Europe. Hank Johnson and John Lewis are nothing but liars and racists in the first place. The only reason those two idiots are in office are because of the racist blacks voting for black canidates just like they will do again for Obama this year. Race is the only thing that matters to these fools.

TruthBe

May 14th, 2012
6:09 pm

#1 Senator to use and abuse filibusters are Senator Reid and Senator Schumer both liars of the democratric party.

Look before I leap...

May 14th, 2012
6:13 pm

“Race is the only thing that matters to these fools.”

What fools are you referring to Truth?

TruthBe

May 14th, 2012
6:18 pm

Hey did you see in Newsweek that President Obama claims to have come out of the closet about being gay. He is quoted as saying he will be the first “Gay President” as well as the first Black President. He going to make it official if he’s re-elected. Besides all the money the gays are giving to Obama’s campaign he’s promoting their gay agenda. Obama bought and paid for by the perverted gay agenda.

TruthBe

May 14th, 2012
6:19 pm

Look before, Black Racist that’s who.

Look before I leap...

May 14th, 2012
6:26 pm

@Truth

OK. fair answer.
Any commentary on white racists?

Look before I leap...

May 14th, 2012
6:28 pm

“promoting their gay agenda”

What exactly do you see as the “gay agenda”?

TruthBe

May 14th, 2012
6:32 pm

Obama’s campaign paying Rev. Wright to be quiet about Donald Young’s murder?

TruthBe

May 14th, 2012
6:35 pm

Look their the same. Opposites attact. Yes the Gay Community has an agenda to push their behavior on all of us.

TruthBe

May 14th, 2012
6:36 pm

Look are you going to vote for Obama because of his skin color or his socialist agenda and policies.

Aaron Burr V Mexico

May 14th, 2012
6:38 pm

@Going Right – This is not rocket science.

There are, essentially, no limits on spending.

Democrats have Hollywood, Silicon Valley and Soros.

Republicans have the Koch Brothers and Most Billionaires and essentially 75% of millionaires.

Examining PAC donations recorded thus far and donations made directly or indirectly, democrats are going to be outspent 4:1.

In fact, the ONLY thing helping out the Democrats is that the RNC and Romney really seem to assume America will forget everything they did or said pre September. And thus far Obama has been pretty good at making sure they don’t.

But that might not last.

Look before I leap...

May 14th, 2012
6:50 pm

“Look their the same. Opposites attact. Yes the Gay Community has an agenda to push their behavior on all of us.”

I’ll assume you meant “they’re” and respond.
I agree, all racists are steeped in ignorance and fear and are dangerous.

Still gonna have ask for a bit more clarification on your phrase “push their behavior on all of us”.
Rushisms confuse me.
Do you mean that gays are trying to make everyone act/be gay?
Do you mean that gays are trying to make everyone think it is ok to be gay?
Do you mean that gays are trying enjoy all the rights and privileges of being a US citizen while being open and honest about who/what they are?

Look before I leap...

May 14th, 2012
6:52 pm

“Look are you going to vote for Obama because of his skin color or his socialist agenda and policies.”

At this point I don’t know who I am going to vote for.
I can state with certainty that Obama’s skin color and Romney’s religious affiliation will have no bearing on my decision. Can you say the same?

Truthbe

May 14th, 2012
7:01 pm

Look, Acceptance by the rest of us. We do not believe in their sinful behavior of being gay. Being gay is a sin just like any other sin my friend. JESUS CHRIST the LORD thy GOD said to “Love the sinner and hate the sin” JESUS never said to embrace the sinful behavior. WE are all sinners. People that choose to be gay have problems. Gay have and always have had the same rights as the rest of the people including marriage. This gay equal rights agenda is a fauld. Gays can marry and pass on their personal property to ever they want to. They just want to be accepted as equal marry people in eyes of all of us. Marriage is from GOD between one man and one women only today. And you know this.

Truthbe

May 14th, 2012
7:02 pm

Yes, I will vote for what’s best for America, and that is Romney period. End of story. Obama is a disaster.

Look before I leap...

May 14th, 2012
7:35 pm

@Truth
A truthful and thoughtful answer.
I disagree.

Gay people should have the same rights regardless of what you believe.
They are not interested in changing your mind or religious stance.
They are not interested in making the institutional Catholics, or Baptists or Mormons change their minds either. Any change there must come from within.
They are interested in enjoying the same rights and privileges that other US citizens enjoy.
They are interested in having no one, no municipality, county, state or federal entity telling them they are not free to mate up with another consenting, of age, human adult and enjoy the same benefits that any other consenting, of age, human adult enjoys.

As soon as the religious right understands this and quits making it an issue, the sooner it is no longer is a distraction to making this a stronger, freedom based society.

td

May 14th, 2012
8:02 pm

ByteMe

May 14th, 2012
2:06 pm

This is the wrong way to solve the problem.

Want to solve filibusters? Require an actual filibuster — the party has to talk until they are finally voted off the stage

I agree with you on the above statement 100%.

Charles

May 14th, 2012
10:27 pm

Bobby, the Constitution also says that a supermajority vote is only required in a few very specific circumstances (like ratifying a treaty or passing a Constitutional amendment). Courts have consistently ruled that the rules that Congress sets for their chambers cannot conflict with the Constitution, so there is indeed something that the courts can do to end the filibuster. They can say that the Senate is overstepping its Constitutional authority by requiring a supermajority to pass ANY legislation, which is clearly against the intent of majority rule spelled out in the Constitution.

Look before I leap...

May 14th, 2012
10:38 pm

@Charles:

The Senate is not requiring a super majority to pass the legislation.
They are requiring 60 votes to end the debate and allow the vote to occur.
Quite a different process and one of many that are used to block legislation from getting voted on yea or nay.

[...] – John Smoltz will speak at the Atlanta Press Club on Monday. – Reps. John Lewis and Hank Johnson have signed onto a lawsuit to end the filibuster. – Atlanta Public Schools approved some 500 job cuts [...]

Morning Reads for Tuesday, May 15th

May 15th, 2012
10:48 am

[...] – John Smoltz will speak at the Atlanta Press Club on Monday. – Reps. John Lewis and Hank Johnson have signed onto a lawsuit to end the filibuster. – Atlanta Public Schools approved some 500 job cuts [...]

jgalloway

May 15th, 2012
4:44 pm

Truthbe:

Your comments have been removed. Please note these guidelines for participation on this blog:

http://blogs.ajc.com/political-insider-jim-galloway/2012/05/14/new-and-renewed-rules/