“Under Article I, Section 5, each house of Congress can set its own rules of proceedings. The larger House, where membership reflects the population of each state, has set rules that limit how long members can speak and that reduce their opportunity to block legislation coming to a vote. The smaller Senate, where all states are equal, has set rules that give greater voice to the minority. Senators can engage in “unlimited debate,” or filibusters, in which the minority can prevent the holding of a vote where the majority would prevail. It takes three-fifths of the senators to vote cloture to shut off a filibuster” (The U.S. Constitution Knowledge Cards ®)

The term “filibuster” has become a buzzword over the years due to its recent escalations and its ability to slow “business in the chamber to a halt.” Until 1917, the filibuster was a completely unlimited debate. This changed with the adoption of a procedure called a “cloture” that “allow[ed] a two-thirds majority to end a filibuster.” This new rule was updated “in 1975 when the Senate reduced the number of votes required for cloture from two-thirds of senators voting to three-fifths.” So, for a bill to pass in the Senate today, 51 (a simple majority) affirmative votes are required. But, this vote only occurs if the Senate debate comes to a close, which takes a “60-vote supermajority.” 

The filibuster was created to protect the voice of the minority, which is what sometimes occurs. However, the filibuster can also result in the blockage of important civil rights bills. For example, “the longest filibuster ever recorded, by South Carolina Sen. Strom Thurmond in opposition to the Civil Rights Act of 1957, lasted for more than 24 hours” (Brennan Center).  

The filibuster has contributed to the writing of our country’s history - including here in Nebraska. Since the implementation of using congressional districts to split the state’s electoral votes in 1992, “Nebraska Republicans have repeatedly attempted to overturn the voting framework in favor of a winner-take-all system.” However, when the chance to reverse this policy arose in 2016, the filibuster led by the longest-serving state senator, Ernie Chambers, caused the vote to fall one vote short of passing.  

Even with the abuse demonstrated by Sen. Strom Thurman, adding only 10 votes to protect the minority opinion is worth it. If politicians believe the Senate should eliminate the filibuster because they cannot convince a mere 10 people of its merits, they should think about this: Their political party will not always be in the majority and their opinions and ideas will be ignored. Perhaps politicians should sharpen their arguments and practice the art of compromise to overcome a filibuster.

Question Source: The U.S. Constitution Knowledge Cards ® 

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