Defending the Filibuster: The Soul of the Senate

Defending the Filibuster: The Soul of the Senate

Defending the Filibuster: The Soul of the Senate

Defending the Filibuster: The Soul of the Senate


Recent legislative battles over healthcare reform, the federal budget, and other prominent issues have given rise to widespread demands for the abolition or reform of the filibuster in the US Senate. Critics argue that members' traditional rights of unlimited debate and amendment have led to paralyzing requirements for supermajorities and destructive parliamentary tactics such as "secret holds." In Defending the Filibuster, a veteran Senate aide and a former Senate Parliamentarian maintain that the filibuster is fundamental to the character of the Senate. They contend that the filibuster protects the rights of the minority in American politics, assures stability and deliberation in government, and helps to preserve constitutional principles of checks and balances and separation of powers. Richard A. Arenberg and Robert B. Dove provide an instructive historical overview of the development of Senate rules, define and describe related procedures and tactics, examine cases related to specific pieces of legislation, and consider current proposals to end the filibuster or enact other reforms. Arguing passionately in favor of retaining the filibuster, they offer a stimulating assessment of the issues surrounding current debates on this contentious issue.


Senator Mark Udall and Senator Ted Kaufman

As two U.S. senators who served during the 111th Congress, we often encountered the perception that the 2009–2010 Senate was a dysfunctional body. As we traveled in our home states and across the country, voters, commentators, pundits, and academics all lamented governmental “gridlock,” laying most of the blame on the Senate’s rules—in particular the “filibuster,” which requires a 60-vote supermajority to overcome even a single member’s objection to consideration of a bill, nomination, or final vote.

At a time when many Americans are casting doubt on the viability of their institutions of government, it’s easy to dismiss the Senate as “broken.” in recent years, senators used the filibuster to block consideration of virtually every bill, executive appointee, and judicial nomination. While the filibuster has helped define the Senate through history, statistics show that in the past 2 years, senators used the filibuster more often than any time previously. the famed institution—already known as the “world’s greatest deliberative body”—appeared to have become perpetually tied in knots with “debate over the debate.”

Yet, it would be inaccurate to say that the filibuster prevented the Senate from passing meaningful legislation. On the contrary: although . . .

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