“Abortion Cases in Court Helped Tilt Democrats Against the Filibuster.” This New York Times front-page story was a press release rather than an investigative report. Through it, the Obama Administration and the Democratic Party cast aside their pretense that they had turned the Senate into a purely partisan body for any public-spirited reason, and broadcast to their most faithful supporters a powerful message: We are packing the Federal Courts for you! Democrat constituencies whose daily bread comes from partisan regulations – the alternative energy industry, for example – knew that already. But less sentient parts of the “base” needed to have it spelled out that the Party uses absolutely all its powers to serve them.
You would have thought we were watching a Mr. Smith Goes to Washington ending with the corrupt Senator shooting filibustering good guy Jimmy Stewart.
Whatever good or ill the filibluster has produced in years past, reliance on this and other institutional devices kept conservatives from making more fundamental arguments concerning the Senate’s purpose. Fundamental, philosophic issues were suppressed in favor of “process.” Thus in the leadership slots we get American variants of Anthony Trollope’s parliamentarian Timothy Beeswax when we need men with virtues beyond cunning.
Will Baude has an interesting post on various aspects of what the Senate Democrats did, which is well worth reading. One question he asks is whether the Senate Democrats passed a new rule or simply refused to apply the existing rule, perhaps creating a precedent. Another question involves the power of the majority of the Senate to make decisions, without being bound by existing Senate rules. The constitutional problem is that the current Senate rules purport to stop a majority from changing the rules, by requiring a 2/3 majority to get cloture on a proposal to change the rules. It is…
The Senate occupies a unique place as the fulcrum of the constitutional order. The filibuster does not occupy a unique place as the fulcrum of the Senate. The course the body took Thursday—which limited the use of the device in presidential nominations—will be added to the growing list of precedents to be avenged in due course, but the filibuster should not be inflated to quasi-constitutional status it does not, and probably ought not, enjoy.
As the Senate filibuster braces to receive what may be a mortal wound via the invocation of the “nuclear option” on executive nominees, there are at least 413 reasons to wish the dilatory tactic ill—and one compelling constitutional reason to keep it. The former is the number of times cloture motions to end debate have been filed since 2007 alone, a measure of the collapse of comity in an institution that used to run on that quality. The latter is that the filibuster may—or at least can—now function as a constitutional prosthetic, performing the seasoning function the Senate was initially intended to fulfill but which the frenzied pace of modern life has subsumed.
This month's Liberty Forum features a lead essay by the sage of Malibu, Gordon Lloyd, on the constitutional liberty of the Antifederalists. Excellent responses from Adam Tate and Ken Masugi follow and greatly add to the discussion. That's right, capital 'A' because as Lloyd argues they are coherent and relevant. We need their wisdom now more than ever. "The constitutional impediments to the completion of the Progressive national democracy project actually rest on promoting the Antifederalist rather than the Federalist features of the Constitution and Bill of Rights." Lloyd disentangles our understanding of the Antifederalists from the scholarship on the…