WASHINGTON (CN) – Several House Democrats and a nonpartisan citizen’s lobbying organization sued U.S. Senate rule-makers over filibuster rules, claiming that the age-old weapon of the Senate minority stymies the implicit majority rules principle of the Constitution.
“Nothing is more fundamental to a democratically elected legislative body than the principle of majority rule,” according to the federal complaint, which challenges Rule XXII of the Senate rules, the rule that requires 60 votes to stop a filibuster.
Common Cause, a lobbying group, joined Democratic Reps. John Lewis, Michael Michaud, Henry Johnson and Keith Ellison to sue Vice President Joe Biden, U.S. Senate Secretary Nancy Erickson, U.S. Senate Sergeant-at-Arms Terrance Gainer and Elizabeth MacDonough, the Senate’s parliamentarian in.
Also named as plaintiffs are three individuals who face deportation if legislators do not reach a vote of cloture on the DREAM Act, a law that would offer conditional residency to undocumented immigrant minors of good moral character.
“Actual or threatened filibusters (or objections to the commencement of debate which are the functional equivalent of a filibuster) have become so common that it is now virtually impossible as a practical matter for the majority in the Senate to pass a significant piece of legislation or to confirm many presidential nominees without the 60 votes required to invoke cloture under Rule XXII,” the plaintiffs say (parentheses in original).
And with an increasingly hostile political arena, Democrats say the filibuster has become another way to “embarrass the administration [and] destroy the energy of government.”
The 52-page complaint gives a detailed history of filibuster, demonstrating how in recent history the stall tactic has slowed government operations to a virtual standstill.
“During the 111th Congress that ended in December 2010, over 400 bills that had been passed by the House of Representatives – many with broad bipartisan support – died in the Senate without ever having been debated or voted on in the Senate because of the inability to obtain the 60 votes required by Rule XXII to overcome objections (or threatened filibusters) by a small minority of senators,” the complaint states. “Since the election of President Obama in 2008, the minority party in the Senate used Rule XXII to prevent debate and prevent the Senate from voting whether to confirm well over 100 nominations by the President to fill critical vacancies in the Executive and Judicial Branches.”
Rule XXII requires a motion for cloture, a “cumbersome procedure” that requires 60 votes and 30 additional hours of debate to force the Senate to vote on a bill. If the matter involves amending the Senate rules, it requires 67 votes.
Common Cause and the House Democrats say that the rule is unconstitutional because it “gives a minority of senators the power to dictate electoral outcomes or veto bills in the Senate or presidential appointments, contrary to the will of the majority.”
The plaintiffs want the court to declare Rule XXII unconstitutional, allowing the Senate to adopt a rule in which “the democratic principle of majority rule with be restored.”
They are represented by Emmet Bondurant of Bondurant Mixson in Atlanta, Ga.