Are Progressives Finally Waking Up and Realizing the Filibuster is Their Enemy?

By Benjamin M. Adams       March 27, 2017        @BenAdamsO_O

In 2000 and again in 2016, Progressives were screwed by the peculiar anti-democratic nature of the electoral college. In both years, more votes were cast for Gore and Clinton yet the lasting legacies of those elections are: The Iraq war, Alito & Roberts on the Supreme Court and whatever mix of policy chaos and appointments that will inevitably flow from the Trump presidency. Progressives must realize by now that they are disadvantaged by the anti-democratic nature of the electoral college, without realizing that the filibuster has an even stronger anti-majoritarian tendency than the electoral college. Under Senate filibuster rules, you can have 59% of the senate votes and still lose. In a presidential election, the winner of 59% of the votes would never lose the electoral college.

There is a critical distinction, however, between these two anti-progressive institutions. That is, DEMs can actually do something about the filibuster. For practical purposes, the electoral college can’t be changed. It requires a Constitutional amendment and a sufficient number of states would never sign on for reasons that go beyond this essay. However, the filibuster can be addressed and the GOP is even willing to do the dirty work for them. Progressives should not allow the DEMs to blow this opportunity.

Here’s the full badness of the filibuster on display:

  • The 29 most populous States in the US total approximately 273 Million. (273,269,546)
  • The 21 least populous States in the US total approximately 35 Million. (34,886,792)
  • The representatives of those 273 million Americans would produce 58 Senate votes, not enough to overcome the 60-vote cloture threshold.
  • Thus, the filibuster at its mathematical worst gives 35 Million people a veto over 273 Million. This is not a mere super-majority. This is categorically anti-democratic.

(Statistics from Wikipedia and the 2010 Census)

So why do progressives view the possible loss of the filibuster as a net negative? The answer is short term thinking. Right now, the filibuster is the DEMS best tool to defeat GOP legislation in Congress. Having no filibuster in 2017 and 2018 means Trump will have an easier time pushing his agenda through Congress. Then again, if there was no filibuster in 2009, we would be 8 years into a single-payer healthcare system.

Essentially, the fight over Gorsuch may be helping progressives realize that in the big picture of things, the filibuster is not a friend of progress. The easiest syllogism I can imagine is this: (1) The filibuster gives great advantage to the status quo over change by requiring large super-majorities, (2) Progressives, by definition, do their thing by changing the status quo, and therefore (3) the filibuster disadvantages Progressives.



  • The filibuster is not in the constitution. Until 1917, cloture required 100 votes.
  • Any discussion of  the filibuster needs to account for the fact that its historical impact has been to grant outsized influence to white men from rural states.
  • Common Cause and Senator John Lewis tried to sue the Senate over the use of the filibuster. The plaintiffs were represented by the infinitely capable Eric Segall (@espinsegall) but the case was appropriately dismissed for lack of standing.
  • The best political science book on the filibuster (IMO) is Filibuster: Obstruction and Lawmaking in the U.S. Senate by my former prof Gregory J. Wawro & Eric Schickler


About Benjamin M. Adams
Recovering Attorney, Dad of Six, Concerned Citizen

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