OPINION — Our founders recognized that it wasn’t just kings who could be tyrants. They knew majorities could be tyrants too, and that the majority party — if unchecked — could trample the rights of the minority party. And so the founders combined majority rule with both representation and constitutional protections for the minority. They established safeguards — checks and balances — throughout our government to keep the government in check and ensure that the rights of the minority party were protected. One of those safeguards was the Senate.
The founders made the Senate smaller than the House of Representatives and senators’ terms of office longer, with the intention of creating a more stable, more thoughtful, and more deliberative legislative body to check ill-considered or intemperate legislation and attempts to curtail minority party rights. And as time has gone on, the Senate’s legislative filibuster has become perhaps the key way the Senate protects those rights.
The filibuster ensures that the minority party — and the Americans it represents — has a voice in the Senate. It forces compromise. It forces bipartisanship. It encourages a greater level of stability and predictability. Even in the rare case when a majority party has a filibuster-proof majority in the Senate, the filibuster still forces the majority party to take into account the views of its more moderate or middle-of-the-road members, thus ensuring that more Americans are represented in legislation. Removing the filibuster would erase this protection and allow the majority — including an incredibly narrow or merely technical majority, as Democrats have now — to trample minority party rights.
In the words of one former senator, “We should make no mistake. … It is a fundamental power grab by the majority party … Folks who want to see this change want to eliminate one of the procedural mechanisms designed for the express purpose of guaranteeing individual rights, and they also have a consequence, and would undermine the protections of a minority point of view in the heat of majority excess.” That former senator of course was Joe Biden — one of the many Democrats who has opposed abolishing the filibuster.
Because, of course, Democrats were singing a different tune on the filibuster just a couple of years ago. When President Trump urged Republican senators to abolish the legislative filibuster – dozens of times — Democrats were strongly opposed. In 2017, 32 Democrat senators — including now-Vice President Harris and a majority of the current Democrat caucus — signed a letter urging that the legislative filibuster be preserved. Republicans agreed and refused to abolish the legislative filibuster despite the former president’s repeated urging.
Now, however, many Democrats who not only supported but actively and repeatedly used the filibuster during the previous administration to block major coronavirus relief legislation and police reform legislation have apparently decided that rules protecting the minority should only apply when Democrats are in the minority. Apparently Democrat minorities deserve representation, but Republican minorities do not.
I urge my Democrat colleagues to think about what abolishing the filibuster would mean for ordinary Americans. Of course it would mean decreased representation for any American whose party was in the minority. But it would also mean highly unstable government policy (and a resulting lack of confidence in government) as well as a sharp increase in partisanship — which I venture to say is not what we need right now.
Abolish the filibuster, and policy will shift sharply with it. Social policy — on abortion, religious freedom, and other issues. Regulatory policy. Tax policy. Foreign policy. The list goes on. And such incessant changes of national policy would unquestionably heighten partisanship in this country. As the laws became more extreme, the tension between Republicans and Democrats, conservatives and liberals, would only heighten. Here in Congress, yes, but most importantly throughout the country.
When Republicans were repeatedly faced with the prospect of abolishing the legislative filibuster during the previous administration, we said “no.” Not because there wasn’t important legislation we wanted to pass, but because we knew that the best thing for our country — and for our future representation in the Senate – was to preserve this essential protection for the minority party. I urge my Democrat colleagues to think of their future and our country and make the same decision.
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