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« Real Insanity | Main | Bluster About the Filibuster II »

January 13, 2005

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Listed below are links to weblogs that reference Bluster About the Filibuster:

» Hatchet Job from Political Animal
HATCHET JOB....Over at Boffoblog, fellow Californian John Baughman was happy to see my takedown of Orrin Hatch's self-servingly selective memory the other day — but thinks Hatch's central claim that judicial filibusters are unconstitutional deserves at... [Read More]

» Nuclear Option in the Sentate from QandO
Question: Who's really using the "nuclear option" in the judicial nomination process? The Democrats contend it's the Republicans through their threat of having filibusters within the nomination process declared unconstitutional. Republicans on the o [Read More]

Comments

jmm8356

I think you've taken Article 1, Section 5 a bit too far. While it is not said specifically in the text of the Constitution, it is a strongly held principle of parliamentary procedure that any motion passes with a simple majority unless another standard is specified. I'd also argue that majority rule is implied by Article 1, Section 3, Clause 4; it would not make sense to give the Vice President a vote in case of a tie unless a tie meant something. While I suppose that either chamber could make a rule requiring a supermajority for regular business, I do not believe they could make a rule to require less than a majority. (Either way, such a rule must be adopted by a majority _and_ must be amendable by a majority, according to Article 1, Section 5.)

Boffo

You are right, to a point. Here is what Article I, Section 3, Clause 4 says: "The Vice President of the United States shall be President of the Senate, but shall have no Vote, unless they be equally divided." That is to say, if the Senate creates a procedure for itself that requires something other than a supermajority [Correction: simple majority. Oops.], then the VP has no vote. The clause does not require that they provide the VP such an opportunity.

And while you are correct that ordinarily it would take a simple majority to create the rules in the first place, note that in 1806 the Senate, in the course of revising its procedures, did away with the rule that permits a majority to limit debate. Until 1917, in fact, there was no cloture rule so that implicitly the Senate worked under something darn close to a consensus rule for ordinary business whenever a filibuster was invoked.

Finally, while Article I, Section 5 says a majority is considered a quorum sufficient to conduct business, that is not the same thing as saying it takes only a majority to amend the rules of a chamber. As I see it, 199 years of Senate filibusters render that moot. (I admit, though, that my use of submajorities was largely facetious. My point only was that the Constitution was almost entirely silent on such matters.)

So, while I take your point, I don't think the constitutional or historical record is quite that clear, and I believe that my interpretation is no more dubious than that of the Republicans' claim about the unconstitutionality of the filibuster.

Henry Clay

The Supreme Court has already addressed this question in United States v Ballin (1892), when it held that it takes only a majority of the quorum for either the House or the Senate to act, absent a restriction in the Constitution itself. Your point within the larger post (that the Senate could set formal supermajority rules for confirmation, as opposed to the informal bar via procedural delay (filibusters)) is incorrect. -- HC

Boffo

A majority for a quorum is not the same as a majority to decide; one is the precursor to the other, but they are not synonymous. Check out my post which addresses Ballin. In fact, I suggest that the decision supports my interpretation.

mitchell

I just spoke to constitutional scholar Bruce Fein about this. (He spoke at my school.) He says that it's not really a constitutional challenge. Yes, by implication, that means Hatch does not know what he is talking about. But what else is new.

What the Senate GOP wants to do is simply change the Senate rules so that filabusters no longer apply to judicial nominations. As Boffo correctly notes, the Senate can do whatever it wants with its internal procedures. Right now, it only takes a majority vote (itself not subject to filabuster, as I understand it) to change the Senate's internal rules.

So...with the Senate in GOP hands, 55-45, why not go "nuclear" already? Because, the GOP does not have the votes. The usual suspects--Snowe, Collins, Chaffee--will not go along with it. Add to that McCain, who I know is wary of the idea. But here's what Bruce Fein said: Voinovich and Warner are also opposed. I did not know that. So that's 6 right there. (All 44 Dems + Jeffords are opposed to getting rid of the filabuster for judges.)

Clearly, Frist is not dumb enough to go nuclear if he does not have the votes. Until and unless Voinovich, Warner, McCain, or other GOP senators who oppose the rule change change their minds, it's not going to happen.

Again, it's not a constitutional challenge. It's just a group of senators trying to change internal senate rules. That group is 40-something strong and needs to get to 50 before it'll happen.

dfc

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