Thursday, November 21, 2013

NUCLEAR FILIBUSTER FIZZLE

The Constitution wastes few words on the rules of the American House and Senate. With a couple of exceptions, the Constitution's take on the subject of legislative rules is simple: Each House may determine the Rules of its Proceedings, punish its Members for disorderly Behaviour, and, with the Concurrence of two thirds, expel a Member.

In fact, the rules for ending debates were themselves the subject of some debate early on, at the very turn of the Nineteenth Century, amongst the Founders themselves. As a result, the rules concerning forcing a vote were changed from the original within a few years. But it was assumed that the gentlemen of the Senate (they were all gentlemen in those days) could debate, come to decisions, vote, and move on without the need for those debates to be constrained by specific rules regarding closure. It wasn't until the mid-Nineteenth Century that the need for a way to limit debate became a topic of conversation and not until the third quarter of the Twentieth Century that the current rules were fully promulgated.

I take no position on the question of whether or not the rule change passed by the Democratic majority in the Senate today was a good idea. But I cannot abide the argument that the change slapped the Founders upside the head. The Founders gave the Senate the right to make its own rules and over the years those rules have evolved. If you believe in evolution, it is a continuing process. And the process continues.

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