The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

Opinion On protecting the filibuster

The U.S. Capitol building on June 16, 2021.
The U.S. Capitol building on June 16, 2021. (Samuel Corum/Getty Images)

Sen. Kyrsten Sinema (D-Ariz.) argued in her June 22 op-ed, “We have more to lose than gain by ending the filibuster,” that the 60-vote filibuster threshold to move to pass legislation through the Senate is necessary to preserve our democracy. She will not change that rule even to advance legislation that she thinks is very important to our democracy functioning, such as election and voting reform. Why, if the 60-vote threshold is so essential to our democracy continuing, is it the case that none of the state legislatures — including the Arizona legislature that she was a part of for seven years — has a legislative filibuster rule that requires 60 percent of the vote to advance legislation?

Majority rules in those bodies and in all the legislative bodies of the other democracies around the world to pass legislation. So, if the filibuster is essential, why is it so unique? If the argument is instead there is something special about the U.S. democracy that requires it, then how is every U.S. state government able to function without it? 

Thomas Bartholomew, Washington

Sen. Kyrsten Sinema’s defense of the filibuster ignored one thing: It is unconstitutional. Though, theoretically, the filibuster is only a Senate “rule,” in the real world it is a back-door structural change to the Constitution itself. How? By requiring a supermajority for most legislation, it subverts the majority principle clearly intended by the Framers.

The Framers were clear about when supermajorities were needed, for example, a two-thirds vote to remove an impeached president or amend the Constitution. They were clear that only “a majority” was needed “to do business.” The majority principle was touted by James Madison in Federalist No. 10 as a major selling point for the proposed Constitution. It was, he thought, a surefire way to thwart power grabs by minority factions, enabling the “majority to defeat [the minority’s] sinister views by regular vote.”

Bipartisanship is a worthy goal, and perhaps a reformed filibuster could preserve majority rule. Until then, filibuster advocates who wish to supplant what Madison called “the republican principle” should take it to the people and amend the Constitution.  

Thomas De Luca Jr., New York

Unfortunately, smoke and mirrors have clouded the basic point, which is whether we wish to have free and fair elections. If we do not, we will have minority government for the foreseeable future, and quite possibly an authoritarian government indefinitely.

Specifically, unless the filibuster is reformed to allow passage of a sound voting rights and anti-subversion bill in the Senate, no party except Republicans will have a chance of taking Congress in 2022, and the presidency in 2024. It’s now or never.

Sens. Kyrsten Sinema (D-Ariz.) and Joe Manchin III (D-W.Va.) may make plausible arguments about retaining the filibuster, but the underlying reason for their position is that they want to keep their jobs. Reportedly, Ms. Sinema depends on centrist Republican voters in Arizona for many of her votes. Mr. Manchin is in a deep-red state and could not continue in office without such voters.

Will Ms. Sinema and Mr. Manchin act to save their jobs or to save democracy?

Gary LuhmanArlington

In her June 22 op-ed, “Manchin just exposed Republicans’ dishonesty,” Catherine Rampell wondered why Democrats aren’t “celebrating” Sen. Joe Manchin III’s (D-W.Va.) “achievement.”

I am sick of “moral victories.” That’s what we called it when my favorite college football team, having a dreadful season or two, would at least beat their long-held rival, and there would be some (small) comfort in that. 

I find no small or great comfort in Mr. Manchin’s catchy little way to expose the Republicans, especially Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.), for the hypocrites they are.

 I want real progress. The For the People Act and the John Lewis Voting Rights Advancement Act don’t need to be exploited for political points in Mr. Manchin’s next election. They need to be passed.

Sorry, no credit is given for what we already know about dishonesty in the Republican agenda and the “big lie.” I am still waiting for Mr. Manchin’s bipartisan Republicans to appear. When they do, then I will celebrate.  

Mary Blissard, Leesburg

When Democrats were the Senate minority, did they complain that the filibuster unduly empowered the minority? If not, they’ve forfeited that argument.

Ilya Shlyakhter, Belmont, Mass.

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