Let’s Talk Filibuster A Bit

I seem to be entering a run of filibuster posting, with another one today over at Post Partisan based on my look at candidate web sites. Might as well keep going…

Matt Glassman is a filibuster defender, and he made a good case earlier this week. He boils his argument down to:

1. The Senate is malapportioned. Removing the filibuster will not ameliorate this, and may exacerbate it.

2. A majoritarian Senate will operate, functionally, like a second House of Representatives. This has real, knowable costs, such as the foreclosing of minority amendments that could carry a floor majority, and the disappearnce of the compromise that such amendments now foster.

3. Following from 1 and 2, there’s no ex ante reason to think trading in the status quo Senate for a small, malapportioned House with six year terms would improve American democracy.

I agree, at least to some extent. One key point here is that the current House is not a majority-rules legislature; it’s a Majority Party rules legislature. That’s the important point about minority amendments in his second point.

Which gets back to what I’ve said many times: majority vote is a convenience that we usually use in a democracy, but majority rule isn’t democracy, or at least not a very good version of it. Democracy, properly speaking, is rule of the people, not rule by the majority.

Where does that leave us? It means that we shouldn’t worry too much about majorities getting ripped off in the Senate. But we also want a Senate that can function well within a party system (and, generally speaking, parties are a very good thing when it comes to democracy for lots of reasons). In my view, we want to try to preserve the advantages of the Constitutional system, which include that individual Members of Congress can really be serious lawmakers. And, yes, when intense majorities do form, we probably don’t want them thwarted, certainly not indefinitely, and certainly not from indifferent minorities. I’m not convinced that the current system does all that.

All of which gets me to my usual reform proposals, including Superbill! Maybe I’ll write more about that tomorrow.

[Cross-posted at A plain blog about politics]

Jonathan Bernstein

Jonathan Bernstein is a political scientist who writes about American politics, especially the presidency, Congress, parties, and elections.