Senate

Lawsuit Seeks To Abolish Senate Filibusters

But everybody seems to love them when they're in the minority

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Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid has it in for the filibuster. "I think the rules have been abused, and we are going to work to change them," he told reporters soon after the election. The Nevada Democrat is worked up because Republicans have used it to hold up legislation 389 times since 2007. "We will not do away with the filibuster," Reid said, but "we are going to make it so we can get things done." He'd change the rules so filibustering senators would have to go back to doing it the old-fashioned way—talking on the Senate floor nonstop, Jimmy Stewart-style—instead of merely declaring a filibuster and going home, which is the way it's often done now. He'd also make it so senators could only filibuster final votes and not use it to block every procedural step along the way. Even these modest reforms won't be easy to pass: To change Senate rules Democrats need 67 votes, 12 of them Republican.

A federal lawsuit now in the U.S. District Court in Washington could do Reid one better. It seeks to outlaw the filibuster as unconstitutional. Common Cause, the left-leaning advocacy group, filed the case on behalf of eight plaintiffs, among them three children of undocumented immigrants who say they would have been naturalized under President Obama's proposed Dream Act if a GOP filibuster hadn't blocked it. Lawyers for the plaintiffs argue that unlimited debate isn't a vital Senate tradition that protects the rights of the minority party, but an historical accident that's led to the equivalent of minority rule.