The Principles and Politics of the Filibuster

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Day Time Location
MON 11:45 am - 1:13 pm TNH 2.138

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"[T]he threat of filibusters has become an almost daily fact of life in the Senate, influencing how we handle virtually everything debated on the Senate floor," Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer has said. "The filibuster used to be the exception to the rule. In today's Senate, it is becoming a straitjacket." On the other hand, "[s]trong minority rights have always been the Senate’s distinguishing feature," Senate Minority Mitch McConnell has written. "On legislation, however, the Senate’s treasured tradition is not efficiency but deliberation. One of the body’s central purposes is making new laws earn broader support than what is required for a bare majority in the House."

The most prominent of legislative tactics, the filibuster is the favored tactic of the minority of the day. Its use is blamed for the death of judicial nominations and needed government policy. Although its application has been modified over the last 60 years, it remains a powerful tool for determined Senators. This course examines the historical development of the filibuster, the actual consequences of its application to significant legislation and nominations, and proposals for reform. We are concered with answering these questions. First, does the filibuster play an important role in ensuring consensus in the political process or has it become a partisan tool for defeating electoral majorities. Second, how does the filibuster help or hold back the Senate from meeting its institutional responsibilities in the 21st century? Third, is reform or abolition the remedy and how should the remedy be fashioned?

In addition to historical source material, we will read the prominent defenses and critiques of the filibuster and discuss and debate those in class. Three short response papers (750 words each) and class participation form the basis for the final grade.

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No materials required


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Important Class Changes

Date Updated
11/10/2022 Meeting times changed
11/02/2022 Room(s) changed
10/10/2022 Meeting times changed
10/10/2022 Course date range updated
10/10/2022 Wait List procedure updated