Making the case that the filibuster is unconstitutional

August 28, 2012

On Monday, public-interest group Common Cause filed a legal brief in a U.S. District Court trying to persuade the court that the filibuster's 60-vote threshold in the Senate violates the Constitution. “Our filing today demonstrates how far the Senate, now effectively dominated by a minority, has strayed from the intent of America’s founders as expressed in our Constitution,” Common Cause president Bob Edgar said in a statement.


(JONATHAN ERNST/REUTERS )

As my colleague Ezra explained earlier this year, Common Cause believes that the filibuster is a historical accident that Aaron Burr introduced in 1806, and that it violates the Founding Fathers' intention to avoid supermajority requirements that threatened "to embarrass the operations of the government and … to subject the sense of the majority to that of the minority," as Alexander Hamilton wrote in Federalist Paper No. 75.

As proof of injury, Common Cause cites the intended beneficiaries of the DREAM Act, which provides a legal pathway to permanent residency to young illegal immigrant students, and the DISCLOSE Act, a legislative response to the Citizens United ruling that would require greater transparency for campaign spending by interest groups.

"The bills died in the Senate without the Senate majority having had an opportunity to debate or pass them, in violation of Article I, section 7’s procedures for the passage of legislation," the group writes in its brief. "Whether the bills would have passed is irrelevant to the question of whether Rule XXII inflicted a procedural injury on the plaintiffs, and as a result, illegally denied them an opportunity to obtain the concrete benefits of  the DREAM and DISCLOSE Acts."

Along with four House Democrats, Common Cause filed a lawsuit in May to have the Supreme Court abolish the filibuster, but Senate lawyers have argued that the case should be dismissed, prompting the group to file Monday's brief.

Common Cause legal brief

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Dylan Matthews · August 28, 2012