The filibuster fallacy

George Will’s defense of the filibuster relies on his contention that “98 percent of good governance consists of stopping bad — meaning most — ideas.” But the filibuster doesn’t only stop bad ideas. It stopped the Senate from passing laws against lynching and protecting black citizens’ right to vote for decades after most Americans supported those laws.

The filibuster is unconstitutional, although courts won’t say so because they respect the separation of powers. The Constitution strikes a balance by giving each state two senators, regardless of population. It would be unconstitutional if the Senate adopted a rule giving large states more power. The filibuster rule (which is not mentioned in the Constitution) is just as unconstitutional because it gives 41 Senators (who may represent less than 12 percent of the nation’s citizens) the power to stop legislation.

Republican senators have been abusing the threat of a filibuster to stop nominations from coming to a vote and even to stop bills that have passed both houses in different forms from being referred to conference committee. Pending legislation by Senator Jeff Markley of Oregon would curb those abuses while preserving the filibuster. 

George Will used to be a thoughtful, principled conservative, but he now supports whatever will prevent progress, no matter how unprincipled. In the long run, however, progress can be delayed but not denied.



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