Filibuster? Blame Aaron Burr

It’s 1804. Aaron Burr kills Alexander Hamilton but he’s still the vice president, runs out of town. Back, 1805, he’s in the chamber. He’s still dispensing advice in the Senate. And Burr says, you’re a great deliberative body but a really great chamber has a very clean rulebook and yours is a mess. And he singles out that previous question motion. They get rid of it in 1806, not because they wanted to create filibusters, right, not because they saw the great deliberative body of the Senate and they needed a right way to protect the rights of minorities. That rule was gone because Aaron Burr told them to get rid of it and it hadn’t been used yet.

Sarah Binder
On the Media – The Filibuster: Protection or Obstruction? – Apr 6, 2017

Robert ReichThe Only Way Democrats Will Get Anything Done – Feb 25, 2021 (facebook)

The Senate isn’t a democratic body. It is a body created to ensure that states had a voice in the federal government. That is its reason for existing and that is why it is made up the way that it is. But that doesn’t mean that the rules that govern the Senate should be broken in such a way that it can’t get business done because the minority wants to roll around on the floor like a temperamental child that doesn’t get what it wants (Yes, Ted Cruz. I’m imagining you with chocolate smeared on your face and wearing an OshKosh jumper rolling on the Senate floor right now, destroying my fond memories of Green Eggs and Ham. Petulant. Small. Child. Ted Cruz) The Senate simply needs to restore the motion to call the previous question that still exists in the House rules and in the basic parliamentary rules that govern most legislative bodies (Robert’s Rules of Order) Striking that rule in the Senate is what has lead to the impasse of the filibuster.

It is amusing to me that the rule was originally struck because it was thought that Senators were too civilized to need to end debate with a vote since no Senator had ever refused to stop talking when it was clear that he was not convincing anyone. Had the original Senators known the future, known that John C. Calhoun would use the filibuster in defense of slavery to bring the United States to the brink of Civil War, that Mitch McConnell and his Republicans would use it to stop the Senate from being able to get anything done, they would have left the ability to call the previous question in place. If we could talk to them today they would probably marvel at our inability to simply set the filibuster aside as a bad idea that has long outlived its usefulness. They had just voted themselves as no longer subject to the King of England a few decades earlier. Don’t like the rules? Change the rules.

Editor’s note

This was originally published as a quote from the episode of On the Media that tops the article, near the date when the episode released. Since this is a problem that we are still talking about four years later, I have moved it forward to today and added more of my thoughts on the subject, like I had originally intended to do when I set the quote aside to be published later, and then published even later after my thoughts evaporated.