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Suit Against U.S. Senate to End It's Do-Nothing History

The U.S. Senate works by majority vote, right? No, at least not always. Senate Rule XXII is its filibuster rule. It was designed to encourage full and deliberate debate of pending legislation and to prevent a majority from rolling over the opponents of a bill. But it has had the unintended effect of permitting a minority in the Senate, just 41 of the 100 senators, to block debate and, therefore, the passage of laws. The rule requires 60 votes on motions to proceed with or to close debate on bills or presidential nominations.

Historically, the filibuster was used to permit unusually long debate of important issues, but it has become a tool to stifle debate on hundreds of important actions. Recent examples are blockage of debate and passage of laws dealing with ways to help our economy, solving the student loan debt crisis, disclosure of campaign financing, and filling court vacancies. Many of these matters are critical to the government's efficient function.

Current abuse of the filibuster rule is cited by critics as one of the reasons why Americans are increasingly frustrated with a do-nothing Congress. As a result, the group Common Cause, whose motto is "holding power accountable," has filed suit against the senate. The suit alleges that the filibuster rule is unconstitutional since it violates the core American principle of majority rule intended by our nation's founders. The plaintiffs cite Alexander Hamilton in The Federalist papers for the proposition that a supermajority voting requirement, as the rule mandates to overcome a filibuster, would "destroy the energy of government."

Under Rule 13 of the Second Continental Congress in 1778, filibusters were not permitted. That Congress understood that business had to get done. Contrast that with an example of filibuster, the threats of Senator Shelby of Alabama to filibuster 70 presidential nominations, mostly for judges to fill vacancies in courts, in order to secure a defense contract for a company in Alabama. This lawsuit against the senate may be the most important suit in America, especially if it ends Congress' recent do-nothing history.


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