The summer legislative fellows of the Jewish Center for Justice, speaking on behalf of the organization, call for the abolition of the Senate filibuster. Our work this summer, which includes advocating for key voting rights legislation such as the For The People Act and The John Lewis Voting Rights Advancement Act, has brought to light its obstructionist past, historic congressional inefficiency, and its success in preserving inequality in this country.
We believe that removing, as opposed to suspending or reforming, the filibuster is the most direct way to free up Congress to enact laws that address the existential threats to our democracy and the world. Eliminating the artificial roadblock that prevents change from occurring will streamline the legislative process, empower our elected leaders, and bolster our democracy.
In Bava Metzia 59b:5, the Talmud informs us that when the majority has come to a decision and the minority has voiced its concerns, justice can only be achieved by following the will of the people. Americans deserve a government that reflects the will of the people and has the ability to pass urgent legislation in a reasonable amount of time.
Statement by Jude Hebert, Simon Bank, Vivienne Scott, Ben Weiner, August Hochman, Maddie Goldblatt, Rebecca Lazarus and Jacob Posner
Background on the filibuster
The Senate Filibuster has changed many times since it was first created in 1805 by Vice President Aaron Burr. Burr decided that the Senate shouldn’t have too many procedural rules and decided to drop the then Senate procedure for ending debate on a piece of legislation. Through this the filibuster was born. A formal filibuster was not part of the Constitution and was not used by early Congresses. It was essentially born out of a loophole.
There is no filibuster in the House of Representatives because strict rules limit the amount of time a member can speak.
The first recorded occurrence of the filibuster being used to block or delay a vote occurred in 1837.
The filibuster was first used in the obstructionist way it is used today during the late 19th century to thwart numerous civil rights and voting rights bills aimed to protect Black Americans.
The filibuster was first reformed in 1917 when the Senate passed a rule that would allow two-thirds of the Senate to vote on clotures and interrupt a senator who was filibustering.
Throughout the 1950s and 1960s Southern Democrat Senators used the filibuster to block legislation that aimed at ameliorating racial inequality. The filibuster was increasingly used to prevent voter, housing, and employment anti-discrimination legislation and anti-lynching bills.
In the early 1970s the filibuster underwent further reform as the Senate changed its rules to allow for more than one bill or issue to be on the floor at once. This meant a filibuster couldn’t completely halt the legislative process in the Senate.
In 1975, the Senate decided to make it easier to invoke cloture and end debate by requiring only three-fifths of the Senate to vote in favor (60 senators).
Despite these reforms, as well as those in 2013 and 2017, the filibuster has steadily increased in usage while congressional productivity has decreased. Recently, Senate Republicans used the filibuster to block a voting rights bill.
What the opposition says
Supporters of the Senate filibuster argue that the procedure is necessary for debate and encourages compromise. Independent of party affiliation, there are fears that eliminating the filibuster would silence the minority voice and increase partisan politics.
Impacts of the filibuster
Decrease in productivity
- Before 1966, there was an average of five filibusters per year. That number grew to 10 between 1971 and 1973, and reached 18 by 1974. (Source: Brennan Center)
- The 107th Congress (2001-2002) passed 516 bills (16.2 percent of bills introduced)
- The 116th Congress (2019-2020) passed 278 bills by comparison, the lowest number in Senate history (6.3 percent of bills introduced)
Increase in cloture motions filed (filibusters)
- There were no more than 8 cloture motions filed per year from 1917 to 1970
- Since 2005-2006, cloture motions filed has increased from 68 per year to a high of 270 in 2019-2020.
Important historic civil rights, voting rights, and racial justice legislation blocked or delayed by a filibuster
- Anti-lynching bills in 1922, 1923, 1924, 1935, and 1938
- Anti-poll tax legislation 1942, 1944, and 1946
- Civil Rights Act of 1957, 1960, 1964, and 1966
- For the People Act of 2021
Why we support abolition and not reform
Since 1970, the Senate has made periodic reforms to the filibuster. During this time, fewer bills have been passed while filibusters have continued to rise.
Most recently, filibuster reform was enacted in 2013 (by Democrats) and 2017 (by Republicans). Each party passed legislation that allows for judicial and administrative nominees to be voted on in the Senate without the need of a supermajority, ultimately bypassing the filibuster completely.
The current reforms being discussed aim to make the filibuster more difficult to employ by forcing Senators to hold the floor for the entirety of the procedure. However, as long as there remains a need for a supermajority, the filibuster will continue to obstruct and further deteriorate our legislative body.
Every attempt to enact filibuster reform has been followed by an increase in filibuster usage. We believe that eliminating the filibuster altogether would allow Congress to function as it was intended, to solve national problems free from minoritarian obstruction.
How to take action
Call Scripts: (202) 224-3121
If your senator already supports the abolition of the filibuster:
Hi, my name is [YOUR NAME] and I am calling today on behalf of the Jewish Center For Justice, a social justice, education, and leadership development organization, to thank Senator [SENATOR’S NAME] for supporting the abolition of the filibuster. Your support is directly helping to advance democracy and will allow organizations like JCJ to fight for a more just society and better future. Thank you for your time and consideration.
If your senator has not yet come out supporting the abolition of the filibuster:
Hi, my name is [YOUR NAME] and I am calling today to urge Senator [SENATOR’S NAME] to support the abolition of the filibuster. Jewish tradition teaches us that it is important to fight for justice and fulfill the will of the majority. We believe that the filibuster works against those values and prevents key legislation from being debated and discussed. Thank you for your time and consideration.