Posts tagged ‘filibuster’

Tyranny of the majority


[I]t is the “tyranny of the majority” that James Madison, a Founding Father, warned about. His reading of ancient history was that the direct democracy of Athens was erratic and short-lived, whereas republican Rome remained stable for much longer. He even worried about using the word “democracy” at all, lest citizens confuse its representative (i.e., republican) form with its direct one. “Democracy never lasts long,” wrote John Adams, another Founding Father. Asked what government the federal constitution of 1787 had established, Benjamin Franklin responded: “A republic, if you can keep it.”

The tyranny of the majority


“We” and “together” become monstrous when they’re invoked to deprive people of their freedom or submerge their identity into some artificial collective whole. I distinctly remember my own Social Studies teachers feeding us variations on “the majority is always right” — a proposition that, even to my young mind, deemed dubious when I considered the possibility of my classmates voting on anything. I would have preferred to see similar skepticism shared by all of the kids in that college classroom, but maybe their classmates didn’t jam scissors through their hands while trying to open a horse chestnut (true story). And maybe the kids in the majoritarian faction really believe, deep down, that “we” have the right to do terrible things, or the obligation to abide by them, so long as we do them “together.”

As I said, I don’t think the president believes the Borg-ish nonsense in his speech. I think he’s stroking his backers and taunting his opponents with the idea that he represents some collective American identity. But if any of those former NAU students remember the slightly prickly political columnist who showed up in their class one day, I hope they recall that handout when they hear politicians use the words “we” and “together.”

Obama’s Convenient (And Dangerous) Majoritarianism

The tyranny of the majority.

The United States is not a democracy; it is a republic.


You just can’t make this stuff up.

Fascism is a religion of the state. It assumes the organic unity of the body politic and longs for a national leader attuned to the will of the people. It is totalitarian in that it views everything as political and holds that any action by the state is justified to achieve the common good. It takes responsibility for all aspects of life, including our health and well-being, and seeks to impose uniformity of thought and action, whether by force or through regulation and social pressure. Everything, including economy and religion, must be aligned with its objectives. Any rival identity is part of the “problem” and therefore defined as the enemy. I will argue that contemporary American liberalism embodies all of these aspects of fascism.

Jonah Goldberg

Marxism has led to Fascism and National-Socialism, because, in all essentials, it is Fascism and National Socialism.

Frederick Augustus Voigt, in Unto Cæsar (1939)


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Understanding Filibusters in Congress

Filibusters are made possible in part due to Senate rules providing that when a senator is recognized to speak regarding a pending measure there are few limitations. Debate is typically unlimited regarding pending measures. Once a senator is recognized, she can yield to another senator for the purpose of a question, but the senator that has been recognized still controls the floor. When a senator continues to speak for an extended period of time it is known as a filibuster.

Empty Coal Train thru Thurmond, WV
Creative Commons License photo credit: jpmueller99

Throughout the history of America, there have been some notable instances in which extended filibusters occurred in the Senate. The longest filibuster to date is credited to Strom Thurmond, who spoke for 24 hours and 18 minutes on the civil rights bill in 1957. Wayne Morse spoke for 22 hours and 26 minutes on the Tidelands oil bill in 1953. William Proxmire actually held the floor for more than 25 hours in 1961; however, he yielded the floor to other senators for several hours during that time period.

The modern approach to filibusters is often referred to as the tag-team approach. In this approach a senator will speak for a period of time and then yield to another senator. In a situation in which several senators participate in an extended period of debate it can actually take some time for the Senate to recognize that a filibuster isCongressional Deskbook, by Michael L. Koempel and Judy Schneider being conducted. As a result, the mere threat of a filibuster carries significant weight in the Senate.

Debate within the Senate is limited only under certain situations. These situations include when:

  • Cloture is invoked
  • Debate is limited by unanimous consent
  • The Senate operates under a unanimous consent time agreement
  • The Senate considers a motion to table
  • The Senate considers a measure governed by a rule-making statute

Each senator is prohibited from speaking more than twice on the same subject on the same legislative day under Senate rules. Due to the fact that each amendment is considered to be a different subject, the two-speech rule is actually not a practical limit on debate.

To learn more about how Congress works, consider these courses held in DC: Congressional Dynamics and the Legislative Process, Advanced Legislative Strategies, or our Capitol Hill Workshop.

Reference: Congressional Deskbook, by Michael L. Koempel and Judy Schneider, Section 8.210 Consideration and Debate on the Senate Floor-Filibusters

For detailed information about the legislative process, see these resources from TheCapitol.Net:

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Understanding Cloture in Senate Floor Proceedings

Filibusters may be ended by one of two ways: either through negotiation among senators or through a process known as invoking cloture. Cloture is the only procedure by which the Senate can end debate without rejecting the measure under consideration at the same time.

The mark of quality
Creative Commons License photo credit: Robbie1

Several stages for invoking cloture are described under Senate Rule XXII, Precedence of Motions. For the process to begin, a minimum of sixteen senators must sign a cloture motion–this motion is also sometimes referred to as a cloture petition. When the required number of signatures is received, the motion is then presented on the Senate floor. The clerk then reads the motion.

Congressional Deskbook, by Michael L. Koempel and Judy SchneiderBefore the motion can be considered, the motion must be allowed to “mature” or “ripen.” This means that it must lie over until the second calendar day on which the Senate is in session. For instance, if the petition is filed on a Monday, then it will not ripen until Wednesday.

On the day the motion is ready for consideration, a vote on cloture is required under Senate rules one hour after the Senate has convened and after a quorum call establishes the presence of a quorum. The quorum call can be waived and the time requirement can be changed by unanimous consent, which is not uncommon.

When the vote takes place, it typically requires three-fifths of the senators chosen and sworn. This amounts to 60 votes, provided there are no vacancies. In order to invoke cloture on a motion for the purpose of amending Senate rules, a 2/3 vote or 67 senators is required.

No limits apply to the number of cloture petitions that can be filed on any single measure or amendment. In many cases, petitions are filed on a daily basis by senators in order that a vote can occur daily.

There are limitations following cloture, the most important being the limit of 30 hours of time for the Senate to continue consideration of the measure. The time for recorded votes, all debate time, points of order and quorum calls count within that 30 hour limit. Each senator is guaranteed a minimum of ten minutes to speak within the 30 hour limit, however, no senator may speak for more than one hour. Time can be yielded to other senators.

To learn more about how Congress works, consider these courses held in DC: Congressional Dynamics and the Legislative Process, Advanced Legislative Strategies, or our Capitol Hill Workshop.

Reference: Congressional Deskbook, by Michael L. Koempel and Judy Schneider, Section 8.230 Cloture in Senate Floor Proceedings

For detailed information about the legislative process, see

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