If you’ve ever seen the movie ‘Mr. Smith Goes to Washington, âyou probably have a special place in your heart for obstructions. The way naive Senator Jefferson Smith (Jimmy Stewart) passionately and elegantly delivered his filibuster speech to eliminate political corruption and defend democracy for the American people inspires us all to stand up and stand up for our moral convictions.
While this film certainly has its unrealistic aspects of the obvious and overly idealized attempt to stimulate patriotism, it does make famous one of the key tools that Senators have enjoyed for centuries.
Safeguards, including filibuster, against blind majority rule in that country have been put in place to ensure that the ruling party cannot exercise full control over the proceedings. This is especially important in a two-party system like ours since, in this case, the minority still constitutes a large part of the American population.
Systematic obstruction essentially allows senators to debate for an indefinite period of time and is often used to prevent the passage of a bill or an appointment. Now, it may seem impossible to pass anything if senators are allowed to debate indefinitely, but filibuster is typically only used in extreme circumstances or as a last resort.
Additionally, a filibuster can be arrested if a three-fifths majority vote is in favor. The “indefinite” debate is therefore in reality limited if it becomes too unpopular, as evidenced by the ratification in 1919 of the Treaty of Versailles (which, at the time, required a two-thirds majority).
The majority the Republican Party enjoys these days appears to not only alter current domestic and foreign policy, but also threatens the continued use of filibuster to protect the minority voice in Congress. GOP threats to severely limit filibuster have been repeatedly uttered, fueled by Democrats’ use of filibuster to keep Bush’s judicial appointments from going through the Senate.
Republicans threatened to essentially eliminate filibustering for all nominations, requiring only a simple majority to end debate, while Democrats threatened to slow down passage of other bills in return.
However, votes to limit or even eliminate filibuster have taken place several times throughout the history of the United States, brought by the majority party.
The most recent debates on the filibuster are so far resolved. Democrats and Republicans have decided to maintain existing rules protecting filibuster as long as Democrats allow some of the nominations, as shown by the endorsement of Priscilla Owen, who won the nomination as a judge of the Court of Justice. US Fifth Circuit appeal after four years of debate over his Senate nomination.
Systematic obstruction was not intended to be used as a fear tactic to achieve small political triumphs.
Systematic obstruction should not be used as an ideological tool limited to the current problem when it is intended to enable any senator to use it, regardless of the party in power. Both sides have focused too narrowly on this issue and have apparently ignored the possibility that they themselves may one day be in desperate need of the filibuster.
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