Long Live the Filibuster


Friday, June 18, 2021

Since January, Democrat activists have been clamoring to abolish the filibuster. Their motivations are clear; progressives want to change the rules in order to pass their radical agenda with their slim partisan majority. 

Since the progressive wing of the party isn’t getting what they want, they’ve unsurprisingly decided to call the filibuster racist. Former President Obama took a swipe at the filibuster, calling it a “Jim Crow relic”, and President Biden later expressed agreement with Obama’s characterization. This argument is ludicrous for multiple reasons. 

As fact-checkers have noted, the filibuster predates the Jim Crow era and did not arise in connection with racial legislation. Although the filibuster was notoriously used to hamper civil rights legislation in 1957, it has been used for a plethora of purposes, both good and bad, over the years. Furthermore, President Obama’s claim about the filibuster is particularly egregious considering that he was once an ardent supporter of the rule. In 2005, then-Senator Obama argued that abolishing the filibuster would only make “the fighting, the bitterness, and the gridlock” in Washington worse. Obama’s willingness to turn on the filibuster when it no longer aligns with his short-term political interests shows that the progressive push to abolish the filibuster has nothing to do with improving American institutions and is instead a political power-grab.

The filibuster serves as a constraint on the ever-expanding power of the federal government. In a scenario in which a single party controls the House, Senate, and executive branch, the filibuster restricts that party’s ability to ram legislation through congress that ignores the wishes of the other half of Americans. The filibuster protects states from rapidly changing partisan legislation that would be harmful to their constituents. 

Democrats must understand that eliminating the filibuster would come back to bite them. If eliminated, the next time a GOP-controlled federal government came into the session they would likely see GOP wishlists be rammed through without any bipartisan support. The pendulum will continue to swing back. 

By attempting to eliminate the filibuster, Democrats show their hand; they are willing to bend the rules in their favor to help themselves stay in power. Rather than be willing to work with Republicans in order to pass bipartisan legislation that benefits all Americans, they prefer to pass legislation that only appeals to their base without regard for the other half of America. Actions like these will only further contribute to the political polarization that currently plagues our country. 

It should be noted that the filibuster also has been used to stop many conservative policies as well. The filibuster goes both ways and is used to help policy not be decided by the singular party that happens to control the government on a given day. When it comes to the filibuster, conservatives could use similar arguments to those that progressives use when it comes to abolishing the filibuster if they wanted to serve their own short-term ends. 

Without the filibuster, conservatives could have passed all kinds of pro-life legislation, for example. Imagine an argument framed this way: “The filibuster is an anti-life artifact of Senate rules. It is time for it to go.” That would not fly with progressives in the least because it isn’t true. The same thing applies to arguments claiming that the filibuster is a “relic of Jim Crow.” It isn’t. The solution, as usual, is not to cram policy down peoples’ throats, but rather to change the opinion of the population that the policy is good. The filibuster actually allows that to take place and does a lot of work in preventing unpopular policy from being forced upon the masses, even though it can hamper the speed at which good things like civil rights laws and pro-life legislation get through the Senate.

We live in a raucous republic. Passing laws that govern everyone from the rancher in Utah who carries a revolver on his hip every day to the New York city executive in a suit isn’t supposed to be easy. The filibuster is in place for the same reason that our constitutional amendment process is so tedious, that Rhode Island has as many senators as California, and that presidents aren’t elected popularly, namely so that states may govern themselves as they see fit and the federal government only inserts themselves where there is an enormous national consensus to do so. 

The late Justice Antonin Scalia was fond of telling Americans that they should “learn to love gridlock.” When the power of filibustering contradicts the power of a temporary senate majority, excessive legislation is thwarted, and issues are left to the states and localities to deal with as they see fit. 

Long live the gridlock. Long live federalism. And long live the filibuster.

The Editors comprise the editorial team for Lone Conservative.

The views expressed in this article are the opinion of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of Lone Conservative staff.

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