Common Cause Takes The Filibuster To Court

I just came back from the first hearing for Common Cause’s lawsuit to overturn the filibuster. It was great to hear such an important issue discussed in such detail—U.S. District Judge Emmet Sullivan presided, and he had tough and incisive questions for both sides.

Common Cause staff and counsel gathered at the courthouse with our co-plaintiffs, members of the House whose bills never got a fair up or down vote, and three undocumented immigrants who would have a path to citizenship, but for repeated filibusters of the DREAM Act. One question before the court: is the filibuster rule untouchable, or can individuals and groups sue to overturn it?

When the Senate is too busy playing politics to even discuss important issues like immigration or campaign finance reform, Americans lose our right to a fair and democratic process. Nobody has the right to get their way every time, but at the very least, their voices should be heard.

Another key issue: does the judiciary have a right to alter the legislature’s rules? Our attorney, Emmet Bondurant, invoked Marbury v. Madison, the first great case on the right of courts to review laws: “It cannot be that a Senate rule is immune from review when a statute (passed by both houses) signed by the President is subject to review,” he said

After the hearing, we gathered outside the courthouse to hear from Common Cause’s President Bob Edgar, who pointed out that the Framers were very specific about which votes require supermajorities, like treaties and constitutional amendments, and which ones do not.

Edgar also re-iterated that “while the Senate has the power to make its own rules, it cannot impose rules that are incompatible with the Constitution.”

Two of the DREAMers in our suit also spoke out. It’s always easy to think about cases like this in the abstract, but the DREAMers provided a reminder that there are real people behind this issue, and if we keep the status quo, they will suffer real consequences.

After today, we’re all optimistic, both about our case and about the prospects for reform in general. Don’t expect a ruling until after Christmas, but in the meantime, you can let your senator know where you stand, and stay tuned to our website and our Fix The Filibuster page for the latest updates!

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