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Suing The Senate For A Job Poorly Done

May 15, 2012

There is a case to be made that the United States Senate has caused irreparable harm to millions of individuals simply because it can’t do its job. The egregious misuse of the filibuster stops good legislation in its tracks, preventing progress that the American public both needs and deserves. From the perspective of the United States House of Representatives, the Senate’s filibuster dilutes their votes and usurps their power. The filibuster, as it is currently used, can in fact be seen as unconstitutional – or, at least, some might make that case. Finally, someone is seeking a legal remedy: the United States Senate is being sued.

Who would do such a thing? Common Cause has partnered with  undocumented youth harmed by the filibuster block of the DREAM Act, and sitting US Representatives who claim standing due to the filibuster of legislation such as the DISCLOSE Act. From today’s press release:

Common Cause filed a lawsuit today asking the U.S. District Court in Washington to declare that the Senate’s filibuster rule is unconstitutional and violates the core American principle of majority rule.

Once a rarely used maneuver to allow extended debate, the filibuster now is routinely employed to block debate on hundreds of critical issues, including tackling the student loan debt crisis, revitalizing the economy, requiring disclosure of campaign spending, and filling court vacancies. The suit charges that the rule is unconstitutional and was never contemplated by the nation’s founders.

Four members of the US House, Reps. John Lewis, Michael Michaud, Hank Johnson and Keith Ellison, have signed on as plaintiffs. I received a copy of the complaint through the office of Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid’s office. As leader of the Senate, announcing a court action against said body wouldn’t be unusual, so  it does not necessarily mean that Reid is on-board with this action. Still, given Sen. Reid’s recent statements regarding the filibuster, it’s certainly possible.

After all, if the suit is successful, it would rewrite Senate operations without the need for either party to push the button on the “nuclear option.”  Courts have traditionally been extremely wary of intervention in the inner-workings of the legislature – so it seems a long shot that the suit will succeed in court.  However, it’s not impossible: the court has intervened before; for instance, when it declared the line-item veto unconstitutional.

Then again, perhaps it’s the court of public opinion in which the plaintiffs really wish to win. As hard as it can be for political junkies to believe, the majority of the American public isn’t even aware of the misuse of the filibuster – they simply see the gridlock and lack of progress and declare the whole system bankrupt. Perhaps the attention a suit like this could bring will inform public opinion and force change more surely than the courts ever could.

5 Comments leave one →
  1. May 15, 2012 1:06 pm

    If I am reading that chart correctly, it appears the increase in the use of the filibuster coincides somewhat with the appearance of TV and the increase in ownership. Probably impossible to measure but it certainly makes the case that Senators know they will be getting their names out there more and maybe will get the chance to show their faces on TV and do interviews when they invoke the filibuster and look like the one person fighting for the rights of the many (even if that is not the majority or anywhere close to it). If only we could measure ego versus this action…

    • May 16, 2012 8:10 am

      The spike actually takes full flight during the Nixon years. If you wanted to make the case that the unraveling of America as a cohesive idea began with Watergate, when the Senate essentially ceased working because of winner-takes-all petty partisanship among the elite of elites, you couldn’t ask for a better graphic to demonstrate it.

  2. May 15, 2012 11:45 am

    Reblogged this on Leaning Left.


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