The filibuster. You might think it has been a quintessential part of the Congressional Political Tradition for generations, but this could not be further from the truth. Originally, the House of Representatives and the U.S. Senate essentially had the exact same rulebook. Both contained the “Previous Question Motion,” which enabled the chamber to immediately close debate and bring the respective motion to a vote. However, in 1806, Vice President Burr (and thus President of the Senate) touted that the Senate was intended to be a cautious, deliberative body, and that this hindered that purpose. The Senate promptly got rid of the Previous Question Motion: the House, on the other hand, has kept it to this day. Now, due to an ancient procedural slip-up, 60 votes were needed to close debate. The filibuster was thus born.
Although the filibuster has gone through various rule changes — such as Senate Rule XXII raising the threshold to break a filibuster to 2/3rds, which was lowered back to 60 votes in 1975 — it has remained a presence in various forms since the ridding of the Previous Question Motion. It was not even widely used until after World War I, and has become increasingly present as the Senate has become more politically polarized. Historically, it was most frequently used (over half the time) to stall voting/civil rights legislation, such as by Jackson’s Vice President John C. Calhoun, or by Senator Strom Thurmond in blocking the 1957 Civil Rights Act.
The filibuster is once again making national headlines because of one name: Senator Krysten Sinema. Not because she has been using it for a good cause, for that matter. But because she recently sank a fundamental change to the filibuster, therefore allowing Republicans to destroy critical voting rights legislation — the John Lewis Voting Rights Advancement Act. A law which would make it harder for jurisdictions to discriminate against voters, and make it easier to sue in cases of gerrymandering or vote denial, plus expand Native American voting access.
This move on Sinema’s part was to the great dismay of the other 48 members of her own party. Even Democratic Senators from crucial swing states, such as Wisconsin and Pennsylvania (Baldwin and Casey), have supported the filibuster’s elimination or serious reform. Sinema, the formerly progressive Democratic hopeful that narrowly flipped her Arizona Senate seat blue in 2018, is now completely switching gears from the entirety of her Party and siding with Republicans by stalling long-overdue legislation to expand voting rights, just as her predecessors who often used the filibuster did.
Sinema’s approval ratings have subsequently plummeted among not only registered Democrats in her home state, Arizona, but among Independents and Republicans as well. Polling shows her losing a prospective 2024 Primary challenge to figures like Representative Ruben Gallego by upwards of 20 percent. Groups such as EMILY’s List or NARAL Pro-Choice America have announced they would no longer support Senators like Sinema who consistenly blocked the filibuster’s elimination. Many former Senators within the Democratic Party’s right-wing also echoed this sentiment, such as Doug Jones, Mary Landrieu, and ex-Majority Leader Tom Daschle.
It is time to change Rule XXII once and for all, and say farewell to the filibuster. If it requires the primarying of the Krysten Sinemas of American Politics, then so be it.