Defending the Filibuster, the Last Safeguard of Minority Rights

COMMENTARY Political Process

Defending the Filibuster, the Last Safeguard of Minority Rights

Dec 14th, 2020 3 min read
COMMENTARY BY
John Cooper

Associate Director, Institute Communications

John Cooper is Associate Director for Institute Communications at The Heritage Foundation.
The filibuster is a central part of Senate tradition that’s been around for centuries. Image Source / Getty Images

Key Takeaways

There is one thing preventing the left from getting its way and fundamentally reshaping America: the Senate filibuster.

The Senate exists to check the rash and radical impulses of the majority, regardless of party, to prevent the “tyranny of the majority” our founders rightly feared.

The left should focus on building consensus and crafting legislation that appeals to the broad spectrum of Americans.

Most of what you’ve heard about the left’s extremist agenda is true. They haven’t been exactly quiet about it.

The radical left, which is now setting the agenda for the White House and at least one chamber of Congress, is intent on imposing a government takeover of the health care system, implementing the job-killing Green New Deal and packing the Supreme Court.

And that’s just for starters.

There is, however, one thing preventing the left from getting its way and fundamentally reshaping America: the Senate filibuster.

The filibuster is a central part of Senate tradition that’s been around for centuries. It’s a rule that ultimately requires 60 votes in order to pass legislation, and was designed to encourage moderation and counter the House of Representative’s majoritarian impulses.

Now, however, many on the left are openly calling to eliminate the filibuster so they can ram their partisan, quasi-socialist agenda through Congress.

This agenda is extreme enough in itself, but what’s just as jarring about this push to change centuries of tradition is the hypocrisy of so many who once viewed the filibuster as sacred now calling to eliminate it—or refusing to rule out doing so.

That includes Joe Biden himself.

In 2005 on the Senate floor, Biden railed against the possible death of the filibuster for judicial nominees, calling any effort to eliminate it “an example of the arrogance of power,” and a “fundamental power grab.”

Fast-forward to a 2020 interview with The New York Times, in which Biden struck quite a different tone, saying his support for eliminating the filibuster would “depend on how obstreperous (GOP senators) become.”

Call me old-fashioned, but I thought the people’s representatives were elected to be “obstreperous,” not kneel to every whim of the other party.

But Biden is not alone in this hypocrisy. During the recent confirmation hearings for Justice Amy Coney Barrett, Sen. Cory Booker said her confirmation “is another moment where we are as an institution eroding our norms.” However, as a presidential candidate, Booker refused to take both court-packing and eliminating the filibuster off the table.

The ultimate act of “eroding our norms” would be to abolish the last safeguard of minority rights in our federal government. And while it’s true both parties have undone the filibuster for judicial and other executive appointments, starting with Democratic Sen. Harry Reid in 2013, the legislative filibuster has long been viewed as untouchable by both parties.

There’s an important reason for this. The Senate exists to check the rash and radical impulses of the majority, regardless of party, to prevent the “tyranny of the majority” our founders rightly feared.

Eliminating the filibuster is far more than just changing some arcane procedural rule—it turns the Senate into another version of the House, where raw majorities rule, where compromises are unnecessary, and where the passions and prejudices of the moment often overcome reason and sound judgment.

In practice, it is nothing short of an assault on the rights of the millions of Americans represented by the Senate minority—an assault that will have devastating consequences for our republic and our system of constitutional norms, including our most fundamental rights.

Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer recently said of eliminating the filibuster, “Once we win the majority, God willing, everything is on the table.” That’s a scary proposition for any American not onboard with the left’s definition of “everything.”

The Green New Deal, for instance, represents not just a fundamental restructuring of the American economy, but massive cost increases in heating your home or filling up your gas tank. In September 2019, Kamala Harris called for eliminating the filibuster to pass this legislation. And, notably, Harris has shown she would implement a socialist platform in a filibuster-free world if given the chance.

Court-packing is another radical concept endorsed by a growing number of liberal politicians, who want to increase the number of seats on the Supreme Court and lower federal courts as a judicial backstop to implement their agenda through judicial fiat.

They can’t do so without eliminating the filibuster. Massachusetts Sen. Ed Markey has called for just that, tweeting in October, “If Republicans confirm Judge Barrett, end the filibuster and expand the Supreme Court.”

Packing the courts would not only forever politicize the judiciary, but would turn judges into unelected policymakers and jeopardize many of the fundamental rights we enjoy.

Extreme new gun control measures, massive tax hikes and a new national, government-run health care program (euphemistically termed a “public option”) are all on the table—and all would be possible if the filibuster is eliminated.

Instead of promising to blow up centuries of tradition, the left should focus on building consensus and crafting legislation that appeals to the broad spectrum of Americans.

That they’re more focused on the former should tell us everything we need to know about their plans to reshape the country.

This piece originally appeared in ArcaMax