What is the filibuster? It is a procedural rule that the minority political party uses to halt business in the US Senate by endlessly debating but never voting on a bill. Under current rules, Senators far too often abuse the filibuster to delay important legislation.
According to the Bookings Institute, since 1917 when modern filibuster rules were created, there have been about 2000 filibusters—half of which took place in the last 12 years. The more frequent use of the filibuster, and the increased threat of filibusters, has paralyzed the Senate. The Senate requires 60 votes, rather than a majority vote of 51, to stop a filibuster debate (cloture) and proceed to a vote, in effect nullifying majority rule and requiring a super majority to pass legislation.
To overcome the obstruction by the minority, the Senate has modified filibuster rules in the past. Between 1969 and 2014 the Senate created 161 “exemptions” to the cloture rules (Brookings Institute), recognizing the filibuster was damaging the legislative process. In 2013 the Senate allowed a simple majority vote to confirm presidential appointments and expanded simple majority confirmation to include Supreme Court nominees in 2017.
Why Reform the Filibuster Now?
The Senate filibuster is largely a Jim Crow relic, historically used to protect the South’s dependence on slave labor and later to defend segregation and block civil rights legislation. The filibuster, with its ugly racist history of obstructing democratic equality, is threatening the landmark voting and civil rights legislation of this generation: the For the People Act. The Act was passed by the House of Representatives on March 3, 2021 and sent to the US Senate where a minority party Senator used the filibuster to prevent the bill from being considered.
The For the People Act will protect the rights of all American citizens to vote in free and fair elections. It will set national standards for protecting voting rights and it encapsulates reforms that will promote a healthy and inclusive democracy. One of its provisions prohibits limiting who can return mail ballots on behalf of another. This would undo the law passed by the 2021 Montana legislature to limit ballot return to immediate family members. This and the other reforms in the Act already have widespread bipartisan support across the country. But this legislation, like many others with wide public support, is being blocked from consideration in the US Senate because of the undemocratic and archaic filibuster.
The opportunity to vote in free and fair elections is the most fundamental of our freedoms. Our nation deserves better. The American people are tired of seeing the filibuster used and abused to delay progress. It is time to amend the filibuster for the health and safety of our democracy.
The Senate will reconvene on September 13 to consider voting rights legislation. Now is the time to tell your friends, family and community to hold their senators accountable! Contact Montana’s Senators and tell them to reform the filibuster and vote YES on the For the People Act!
Senator Tester: call Missoula office: (406) 728-3003
Or email: https://www.tester.senate.gov/contact/
Senator Daines: call Missoula office: (406) 549-8198
The League of Women Voters has been registering voters and providing non-partisan voting information for over 100 years. Membership is open to men and women, citizens and non-citizens over the age of 16. For more information about the Missoula League, go to our website: lwvmissoula.org