How the Senate Can Kill the Filibuster and Why They Shouldn’t

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Thursday, January 13, 2022


Senate Democratic Leadership this past week has reaffirmed their commitment to passing legislation that would nationalize elections. In the face of stiff resistance, some are calling to kill the age-old procedural tactic known as the filibuster. 

Due to the Senate’s rule on unlimited debate, members are allowed to speak indefinitely, suspending the ability for a piece of legislation to pass. This can be overcome by something called a cloture motion which ends a debate. But this demands a 60 vote threshold, much higher than the 51 vote threshold required to pass most legislation. 

This tactic is often used by the minority party in the Senate to prevent measures they find particularly objectionable from receiving a vote. In this case, Republicans will use it to block the Democrats’election law overhaul. 

What Senate leadership plans on doing is lowering the 60 vote threshold to 51 votes. This can be done in 2 ways. One would be to rewrite Senate rules. Ironically this is subject to a debate that can only be overcome by a 60 vote cloture motion. This strategy would likely fail.

The more likely way this would be done is that when a piece of legislation is brought to a cloture vote, a point of order will be raised. A senator will rise and suggest that it actually only takes 51 votes to pass a cloture motion. Since Senate rules are self-enforcing the presiding officer can accept that senator’s point of order, thus establishing a new precedent in the chamber. The presiding officer can alternatively deny that senator’s point of order and that senator can then appeal the decision of the presiding officer by a simple majority of the Senate thus overruling the presiding officer.

The question now is will the Democrats be able to do this? Currently, the Senate is deadlocked at 50-50 with the tie being broken by Vice President Kamala Harris. However, two key Democratic Senators, Joe Manchin, and Kyrsten Sinema have been vocal in their opposition to eliminating the filibuster. 

According to Niels Lesniewski of Roll Call, Senator Manchin has said, “once you change a rule, or you have a carve out, I’ve always said this, any time there’s a carve out, you eat the whole turkey”. The carve out he is referencing is the plan by some Democratic Senators to create an exception to the filibuster for voting rights legislation much like what was done to create an exception for presidential nominations. According to CNN, President Biden has signified his support for this plan and has not ruled out exceptions for other issues.

The underlying issue of nationalizing elections aside, what the Democrats in the Senate are doing is wrong. The filibuster is an important tool to preserve the minority opinion in the Senate. Without it, the 51 can rule over the 49 without any need to negotiate or compromise. What many fail to realize when arguing on an issue like the filibuster, is that the minority holds an important position when governing. The minority opinion leads to moderation, and to make sure one side is not subjugated by the other. 

Yes, the filibuster creates conflict between the majority and minority, but that is exactly what the framers intended. In Federalist 10, James Madison points out that political factions are an inevitable part of a free society and any attempt to control them would not only be limiting liberty but would also be futile. Madison suggests that factions be kept at war with each other and prevent the subjugation of one faction over the other.  

The plan to eliminate the filibuster goes directly against what Madison calls for in Federalist 10. Allowing one party to take total control over the other, is not a democracy or a republic but rather rule by despots. The American republic is the greatest example of government in the history of the world and it cannot fall victim to the trappings of ease and must learn to compromise.

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Anthony Ilardi is a political science major at Clemson University. There he is a student senator representing the undergraduate student body and a member of the mock trial team. He hopes to take his experiences in Student Government to the real world someday.

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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About Anthony Ilardi

Anthony Ilardi is a political science major at Clemson University. There he is a student senator representing the undergraduate student body and a member of the mock trial team. He hopes to take his experiences in Student Government to the real world someday.


ailardi8 on Instagram @ailardi8

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