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How The Filibuster Can Be Used To Silence 89 Percent Of The Country

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How The Filibuster Can Be Used To Silence 89 Percent Of The Country




A majority of the Senate voted to reform the filibuster on Thursday, ending the need for the president’s judicial and executive nominees to first clear a 60-vote hurdle before getting an up-or-down vote. The 60-vote requirement still exists for legislation and Supreme Court nominees. But Republican senator Chuck Grassley (R-IA) suggested that the GOP might end the filibuster on nominees to the nation’s highest court as well, even though no Republican president’s pick for the Court has ever been filibustered.

This chart from the Princeton Election Consortium shows how the filibuster could be used to pervert the legislative process. Only 41 senators representing about 35 million out of roughly 313 million Americans — around 11 percent of the population — could effectively block anything the Senate wanted to do.

This chart — with Republicans represented in red and Democrats in blue — does not reflect the current makeup of the Senate, where Republicans are behind essentially all of the filibusters.

But the recent vote on background checks can give you a sense of how undemocratic this Senate can be.

“Eighty-six percent of Americans backed background check reform,” The Wire‘s Philip Bump wrote. “Senators representing 38 percent of America blocked it.”

The Senate itself was designed to be less democratic than the House of Representatives even before the idea of the filibuster was made possible in 1806 and first used in 1837, 50 years after the ratification of the Constitution.

“Prior to the 1970s, filibusters — which required 67 votes to break for most of the 20th century — were incredibly rare,” The Washington Post‘s Ezra Klein noted and illustrated with this chart:


The use of filibusters escalated when Democrats took the Senate majority in 2006 partly because Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) often uses a complex tactic called “filling the tree” that Republicans say forces them to block legislation.

That might explain the rise in legislative filibusters, but it certainly doesn’t explain Republicans’ radical opposition to the president’s executive branch nominations:



Should senators representing about 40 percent of the country be able to effectively obstruct the will of the first president to win 51 percent of the popular vote twice since 1956?


  1. sigrid28 November 21, 2013

    Since January 1, 2013, many of us have been waiting for Senator Reid to release the obstructionist Republican hold on the Senate and the president’s appointees. Bravo!

  2. whiskytime November 22, 2013

    When the losing Republicans cannot accept that fact this is the subterfuge they have driven this country to.When you can’t win by honesty, use any weapon, real or imagined , to force your unpopular views on the majority.

    1. DownriverDem November 22, 2013

      If the majority of Americans don’t see what the repubs are doing, I give up.

      1. Just Wondering November 22, 2013

        they do…

  3. Lovefacts November 22, 2013

    Here’s hoping that Obama will fill the judicial vacancies before November 2014. At the moment, 11% of the Federal bench lacks judges and has created a terrible backlog, including case awaiting trial with individuals too poor to get bail, sitting in cells and not yet found guilty of anything. Some have sat for longer than their prison terms would’ve been should they have been found guilty, not to mention the one who have been found not guilty yet spent several years in a cell. Now there’s a crime.

  4. topjob66t November 22, 2013

    I am a bit confused over the ‘projected’ number of filibusters in the above chart. What does it actually represent?

    1. Just Wondering November 22, 2013

      A filibuster is a parliamentary procedure where debate is extended, allowing one or more members to delay or entirely prevent a vote on a given proposal.

      1. topjob66t November 23, 2013

        Yeah. I know that. My question was how the chart showed a projected filibuster. Future filibusters on historical behavior?

  5. howa4x November 22, 2013

    Dr No McConnell was the leader of the filibuster brigade. He swore that nothing Obama did would pass with out a fight to the death. He stopped Obama’s jobs program when the country needed it

    1. Just Wondering November 22, 2013

      before he even took office!

  6. Just Wondering November 22, 2013

    “In the history of the United States.
    There have been 168 presidential nominees who have been filibustered.
    82 filibustered under President Obama, and 86 in total have been filibustered under all other Presidents

  7. Kurt CPI November 23, 2013

    Just remember, this is a two-edged sword. When the tide changes – and it eventually will – Republicans can now fill positions with their favorite wall street moguls, military contractors and oil tycoons with just one vote more than the opposition. Democrats may have won the day, but at what future cost?

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