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Monday, May 20, 2024 | Back issues
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Appeals Court Won’t Touch Filibuster Rules

(CN) - Common Cause cannot sue the vice president over the Senate's filibuster rules that led to the defeat of the Disclose Act and Dream Act, the D.C. Circuit ruled.

In 2011 and 2012, two bills were passed in the House during the 111th Congress, but fell to filibusters in the Senate.

The Disclose Act, a bill to amend federal election campaign contributions in the wake of Citizens United, lacked just one vote to overcome a filibuster.

The Dream Act, a bill to give conditional permanent residency to qualifying immigrants, also failed in the Senate.

The Senate's rules allow senators to debate any bill indefinitely unless the Senate invokes cloture, to end debate and take a vote on the bill. Achieving cloture requires 60 votes, or three-fifths of senators to vote in favor of ending debate.

Both the DISCLOSE and DREAM bills won the majority of Senators' votes, but not 60, effectively defeating the bill.

The nonprofit group Common Cause, and several House members who voted for the bill brought suit in Federal Court against the Vice President and three Senate officers, alleging that the Senate rule requiring 60 votes for cloture violates the constitutional principle of majority rule.

The district court dismissed the case, finding that none of the plaintiffs had suffered a substantive injury.

The D.C. Circuit affirmed the dismissal Tuesday, on different grounds.

"We agree with the district court that Common Cause lacks standing, but for a different reason. Our analysis focuses on whom Common Cause chose to sue - or, more to the point, not to sue," Judge A. Raymond Randolph wrote for the three-judge panel.

"The complaint named neither the Senate nor a Senator. It is apparent why," the judge continued.

Article one of the U.S. Constitution grants all Congressmen immunity for legislative work, providing that "for any speech or debate in either house," senators and representatives "shall not be questioned in any other place."

The court found it unnecessary to decide whether this immunity extends to the vice president, in his capacity as president of the Senate.

"In suing only non-Senators, Common Cause is 'Hoist with [its] own petar,'" Randolph said, quoting Shakespeare.

"The Senate established the cloture rule and the senators voting against cloture doomed the DREAM and DISCLOSE bills. It is hard to imagine how any of the defendants bore responsibility for that outcome," the 9-page opinion concluded.

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