Common Cause sues Senate over filibuster
By BENNY MARTINEZ
Talk Radio News Service
WASHINGTON - It was once a procedural tool meant to extend debate on controversial issues in the Senate, now the filibuster is increasingly becoming considered a hyper-partisan poison pill.
A nonpartisan nonprofit group has had enough of the negative effects the Senate’s filibuster is having on the legislative body’s ability to pass laws and is now taking its case to the courts.
Common Cause filed suit to the U.S. District Court in Washington Tuesday, arguing that the Senate’s filibuster rule is unconstitutional.
“Most Americans have lost confidence in Congress and its ability to act in the best interest of the American public,” said Bob Edgar, president and CEO of the government watchdog group. “They have good reason. Congress is mired in gridlock as partisan factions put political advantage over the national interest. Requiring 60 votes to do anything in the Senate is a big part of the problem. It creates a disincentive to compromise, and allows powerful special interests to call the shots behind closed doors.”
In its 52-page complaint, the group deems the filibuster unconstitutional because it allows senators that represent as little as 11 percent of the country to prevent votes in the Senate.
Just this year, Senate Republicans have employed the filibuster 21 times to prevent votes or to block legislation from passage.
A vote on the DREAM Act, a bill that provides undocumented immigrants a legal path to citizenship, received bipartisan support in the House and a simple majority – 55 votes – in the Senate but failed to reach the 60-vote supermajority required to break a GOP filibuster. In similar fashion the campaign-finance DISCLOSE Act won support from 59 senators but yet again failed to overcome a GOP filibuster.
The use of the filibuster has historically been a tool used by the Senate’s minority party. Sen. Tom Udall (D-N.M.) who has helped lead the way, along with Sen. Jeff Merkley (D-Ore.), for filibuster reform in the upper chamber said that the abuse of the filibuster involves both Republicans and Democrats, citing the actions taken by Southern Democrats to delay civil rights legislation for nearly three decades.
“We’ve got to reform this filibuster,” Udall said during his Tuesday conference call with reporters. “It’s being abused… I’m tired, [Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.)] is tired and the American people are tired of waiting for us to act. I haven’t given up on reforming our rules and Leader Reid’s comments last week are further proof of the need to do so.”
Reid’s decision to support filibuster reform is reversal from his previous position but has undoubtedly provided the actions Udall and Merkley have taken with more steam.
Said Reid on the Senate floor last week,”If there were anything that ever needed changing in this body, it’s the filibuster rules because it’s been abused, abused, abused.”
The suit filed by Common Cause comes as a last resort for the group following a previous attempts by Udall and Sen. Tom Harkin (D-Iowa) to reform the filibuster.
“This is not what the founders had in mind,” Edgar said. “We have no choice but to ask the courts to step in and enforce the Constitution as a matter of law.”
It’s not yet clear how soon the groups suit will be heard by Washington’s U.S. District court, but Udall expects the Senate to pursue filibuster reform at the beginning of the next Congress.
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