Never does the U.S. Senate act as undemocratically as it does when its members enact the filibuster.
Although immortalized by Jimmy Stewart’s rousing pleas for justice in Frank Capra’s Mr. Smith Goes to Washington, the filibuster is the easiest tool for a disgruntled minority to flout the will of the lawful majority in the Senate.
A senator who filibusters holds the floor of the Senate for as long as he or she is physically able or until he or she receives concessions on the debated point. However, a group of senators may also filibuster, removing the Capra-esque idea of the lone man struggling for survival.
Never has the injustice of the filibuster been clearer than in the current battle over Appeals court nominee Miguel Estrada. Although 55 members of Congress, both Republicans and Democrats, would approve Estrada, 44 Democrats and an independent refuse to allow the nomination to be brought to a vote.
This is allowed by yet another law that usurps democracy in the upper house: the necessity of a supermajority to allow voting on a measure.
Unlike the House of Representatives and unlike the very elections that bring senators themselves to power, a simple majority does not guarantee victory. Sixty votes are needed to bring legislation to a vote.
As long as “only” 55 percent of the Senate wants to give Estrada a vote, Estrada will never get a vote. Only one other system in America operates on the principle that a majority vote doesn’t necessarily mean anything-the electoral college.
And the senators filibustering Estrada’s nomination now were the senators complaining about George W. Bush’s electoral victory, even while Al Gore received the majority of the popular vote.
If democracy in the structure of our federal republic is to work, the majority must be given the right to rule in our legislative bodies. To do otherwise is not democracy; it is oligarchy-government of the few.