Last updated on February 28, 2021
I’ve seen general pieces about the filibuster and its history, and so let me be specific that I am asking for commentary that is a little deeper, or granular.
My question is simple — I’’m old enough to have been politically aware since the Ford/Carter years, and for most of my life the filibuster was not remotely a central fact of legislating. Sure, it existed, but it seems to me that it was not used much (or even discussed). That not every legislative bill needed 60 votes to pass. (For Pete’s sake, almost the only constitutional role of the Vice President is to break Senate tie votes, which cannot happen in a permanent filibuster environment (outside reconciliation)).
I’m not so interested in exactly when the filibuster was added, or whether the filibuster number moved from 70 votes to 60 votes, etc. I’m also not really interested in when, and why, the “talking filibuster” rule was dropped.
Rather, I am interested in exactly how the filibuster has been used over the years, how that changed recently, and, I guess, what were the previous norms regarding filibusters?
My limited understanding is that McConnell changed everything under Obama by filibustering every single bill. But what does that mean practically? Is it that previously Senators obeyed a norm to vote for cloture while reserving the right to vote against a bill? Was there some formal procedure to invoke a filibuster, rather it being assumed as a pre-existing fact?
While I am primarily interested in the legislative filibuster, let me also use two Supreme Court confirmations as examples. Contrary to popular belief, nominee Robert Bork was not filibustered and Justice Thomas did not defeat a filibuster. Both were given a straight up-or-down, 51 vote majority test. Is that because no Democratic Senator commenced a filibuster? Or was it because Democratic Senators voted to defeat a filibuster at the closing-the-argument stage (“cloture”), while reserving the right to vote “no” on the real vote. And is the latter scenario some sort of norm that has disappeared?
I haven't been able to find a good discussion about this with the specificity that I think matters. In addition, to cites to any good articles, I obviously would value simply hearing in the comments from folks who understand this issue better. Thanks.
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