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In Memoriam: The Senate Filibuster, 1806-2013

So maybe pronouncing the filibuster dead is hyperbolic, but Senator Reid may well have struck it a mortal blow today.

Every Democrat but three voted today to “appeal the rule of the chair” – an arcane but innocuous-sounding procedure, for something that has become known in as the “nuclear option”. Using a long-discussed but never used chink in the Rules of the Senate, Senate Democrats gave themselves the ability to pass most executive and judicial nominations (except for Supreme Court nominees) by a simple majority vote.

“But Republicans are being obstructionist,” they say. “This was necessary so that we can get things done.”

A lesson in history and irony. In the 2000’s, when Democrats were in the Senate minority under a Republican president, it was the Republicans who first considered using this “nuclear option”, under then Majority Leader Bill Frist, against Democrats who were obstructing judicial nominations. Back then, an irate Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid railed that “the American people have rejected the nuclear option because they see it for what it is — an unconstitutional abuse of power.”

The Republicans were wrong then, and Harry Reid was right. Funny how the temptations of power can change one’s perspective.

Reid did make one interesting observation that should give even his supporters pause: “This change to the rules regarding presidential nominees will apply equally to both parties. When Republicans are in power, these changes will apply to them as well.  That’s simple fairness.”

Are Senate Democrats really so short-sighted that this doesn’t bother them?

The whole point of the way the Senate has run for over two centuries is that even the minority party can have a major influence on the outcome of legislation, unlike the very majoritarian House. The Senate is the deliberative body, where legislation necessarily moves slowly, subject to countless objections and obstacles. This is the process that was intended, from the first days of our Republic, to produce a more perfect bill that would have true input from all of the states, via their senators. 

While it’s true that today’s nuclear event doesn’t apply to legislation, does anyone seriously think that the precedent isn’t set now for the filibuster to disappear there too?  

If the Senate silences the minority party, and runs itself like the House, what is the point of its existence?