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