Don’t Believe Their Lies About the Filibuster

Senators John Cornyn (R-TX), Kyrsten Sinema (D-AZ) and Ted Cruz (Q-TX)

Senators John Cornyn (R-TX), Kyrsten Sinema (D-AZ), and Ted Cruz (Q-TX)

Republican Senators and pundits - and now Senator Kyrsten Sinema (D-AZ) -  are trying hard to convince Americans that the “filibuster” is somehow a sacrosanct aspect of our Senatorial governance. But it’s not. They are worried that President Biden is now taking aim at the filibuster to stop Republican stonewalling on voting rights legislation. They know if state Republican officials are prevented by federal law from suppressing voting, they are at risk of being voted out of office.

  • The filibuster was created by accident, in 1806, when a minor rules change allowed Senators to indefinitely delay a bill. 
  • The majority needed to “break” a filibuster has changed over time, In 1917 it was reduced to a two-thirds majority; in 1975 it was reduced to a 60-vote majority. 
  • Both Republican and Democratic Senators have change the rules over time, exempting certain types of presidential appointments, budget reconciliation, and a few other specific types of legislation from filibuster. 
  • At one time “filibustering” required a Senator to hold the floor by speaking; the longest filibuster ever recorded, by South Carolina Sen. Strom Thurmond in opposition to the Civil Rights Act of 1957, lasted for more than 24 hours.
  • But the talking filibuster hasn’t been needed since the early 1970s, when rules changed to enable the minority party to simple declare their intention to filibuster to halt all debate on a bill and effectively kill it. 

Historically, the filibuster has been most used to block civil rights legislation, as with Strom Thurmond’s example. In recent years, it’s been used by the minority party to block legislation, effectively removing the ability for the Senate majority to pass legislation. Notably, it’s been used by Senate Republicans - who are from states that represent just 17% of the US population - to block legislation that the elected Democratic majority seeks to pass. 

There is nothing wrong with changing the rules around filibusters. Changes have been made repeatedly over the past 215 years, and can be made today. The Biden Administration wants Congress to pass legislation that will protect voting rights (the Freedom to Vote Act and the John Lewis Voting Rights Advancement Act), which in a democracy such as ours, forms the bedrock for self-governance. States, including Texas, have shown repeatedly over the past 150-plus years since the Civil War ended slavery that they cannot be trusted to protect civil rights, in particular the right for all citizens to vote. Senate Democrats cannot allow the Republican minority to block this legislation. The rules must be changed to ensure we remain a democracy where voting rights are protected.