Wednesday, March 17, 2021

Sorry, But This Bugs Me

Cuomo makes a good argument, but then he says something stupid:

"By the way, the filibuster was born during the Jim Crow period to allow the senator who didn't want progress to slow it down," added Cuomo. "That's where it comes from. It's not in the Constitution. Just as now in the last wave of politics it's about suppressing the minority vote, this time to block Biden's agenda."

No.  The Senate filibuster began in 1806 (in an innocuous way that has nothing really to do with our discussion.  Take that, though, as the starting point in history.). There were many attempts to.eliminate it in the 19th century, but such attempts were usually:  filibustered.  It was modified to allow for cloture votes in 1917.  That rule allowed 2/3rds of Senators present to vote to end debate (cloture).  The issue that prompted this rule change had nothing to do with segregation or Jim Crow laws, either.  It was over a bill to arm merchant ships as the U.S. prepared to enter WWI. 

Yes, the Capraesque version with Jimmy Stewart standing up for the “little guy” in the rich man’s club that is the Senate is eyewash (or something stronger, if you prefer).  But the rule is not a relic of segregation, except by coming into existence while slavery was legal, and it’s implementation is long and complicated, as are the Senate rules.  The better question to ask, in fact, is not:  should we eliminate the filibuster, but rather:  which one?  And how, precisely?

I’m agin it, in principle.  But given the nature and history of the Senate, I think rooting it out will be about as easy as razing the entire institution of the Senate to the ground, and starting over from scratch. The Speaker of the House controls the House, by Constitutional design.  The Senate sets its own rules and has no Constitutionally designated leader.  Do you eliminate debate from the Senate?  (Isn’t that the victory Jimmy Stewart wins?). Or do you allow for some sort of  cloture?  And based on what vote?  What percentage?  Does 50 + 1 encourage partisanship?  Does 2/3rds encourage gridlock?

Or do we start from scratch and hope the same rule doesn’t show up again, in some form?  Yeah, that’s not gonna happen.  What, then?  Sen. Manchin has said he doesn’t want to eliminate it; just to make it “painful” again.  A Capraesque solution if I ever heard one.

Which is not meant as a compliment.


  1. Yeah, it's annoying. Ppl are clearly conflating the dramatic use of filibustering Civil Rights legislation with its genesis, which...uh, no, as you said.

    1. Especially since the filibuster was overcome in those days. Today just the mention of an objection brings everything to a halt. Maybe that’s the problem.

    2. Amen. It's reliance on complex unanimous consent agreements for everything that's killing us.

  2. Oh yeah, and: Strom might've had a nice steak before talking for 24 hours...only to have the CRA57 pass a couple hours later. To your point.