Filibusters are Constitutional, Right? Not So, Say Prominent Democrats

In: All News   Posted 05/09/2003

  • Senator Joe Lieberman on January 4, 1995: "the filibuster rule… there is no constitutional basis for it…. It is, in its way, inconsistent with the Constitution, one might almost say an amendment of the Constitution by rule of the U.S. Senate." And on January 5: "The Constitution states only five specific cases in which there is a requirement for more than a majority to work the will of this body: Ratification of a treaty, override of a Presidential veto, impeachment, adoption of a constitutional amendment, and expulsion of a Member of Congress. In fact, the Framers of the Constitution considered other cases which a supermajority might have been required and rejected them. And we by our rules have effectively amended the Constitution – which I believe, respectfully, is not right – and added the opportunity of any Member or a minority of Members to require 60 votes." Congressional Record.
  • Senator Tom Daschle on January 30, 1995: "the Constitution is straightforward about the few instances in which more than a majority of the Congress must vote: A veto override, a treaty, and a finding of guilt in an impeachment proceeding. Every other action by the Congress is taken by majority vote. The Founders debated the idea of requiring more than a majority…. They concluded that putting such immense power into the hands of a minority ran squarely against the democratic principle. Democracy means majority rule, not minority gridlock." Congressional Record.
  • Senator Tom Harkin on March 1, 1994: "I really believe that the filibuster rules are unconstitutional. I believe the Constitution sets out five times when you need majority or supermajority votes in the Senate for treaties, impeachment." Congressional Record.
  • Lloyd Cutler, Carter and Clinton White House Counsel, on September 29, 1968: "Nothing would more poorly serve our constitutional system than for the nominations to have earned the approval of the Senate majority, but to be thwarted because the majority is denied a chance to vote. Senators have never before employed a filibuster against a Supreme Court nomination. Indeed, prior Supreme Court nominations have seldom been debated more than 8 days. Whatever the merits of the filibuster as a device to defeat disliked legislation, its use to frustrate a judicial appointment creates a dangerous precedent with important implication for the very structure of our Government." Congressional Record. And again on April 19, 1993: "requirement of 60 votes to cut off debate and a two-thirds vote to amend the rules are both unconstitutional." And again on May 3, 1993: "the Senate rule requiring a super-majority vote to cut off debate is unconstitutional." Washington Post.