Two Senate veterans stand up for a little-understood and much-maligned legislative tactic.
For more than a century, filibusters have been attacked as undemocratic, unconstitutional, obstructionist barriers to the work of the Senate, yet they have resisted all but the most tepid attempts at reform or elimination. Old Senate hands Arenberg, who served as an aide to three senators, and Dove, the body’s parliamentarian emeritus, rejoice in that fact in this brief celebration of each senator’s right to nearly unlimited debate. The authors demonstrate that senators’ positions on reform of the filibuster undergo almost hilarious changes as members of a frustrated majority become members of an embattled minority, suddenly aware that legislative efficiency may not be the highest political virtue. While the authors admit that this dilatory tactic has been abused far more than the historical norm in recent sessions, they contend that any fault lies not in the rules of the Senate but in the increased partisanship and lack of comity among the senators themselves. Far from exemplifying the Senate’s allegedly dysfunctional nature, the authors regard the filibuster as an indispensable brake on the tyranny of a potentially despotic majority, essential to the building of consensus around well-considered legislation. Remove it, they argue, and the Senate will become only a pale shadow of the House of Representatives, where the minority party is consigned to impotent oblivion. Arenberg and Dove effectively demystify the arcane rules and customs that make possible the filibuster and related tactics like holds and “filling the amendment tree,” and they explain why perennial reform suggestions like requiring old-fashioned marathon speaking filibusters or ratcheting cloture majorities will not work. Finally, they offer some modest suggestions for reform while adamantly defending the underlying right that they consider to be “the soul of the Senate.”
An impassioned and cogent defense of the Senate’s most controversial practice.