It’s beyond time to retire the filibuster

For example, ending the filibuster would not end the Senate’s ability to serve, in James Madison’s words, as a “necessary fence” against the “fickleness and passion” of the public and the House of Representatives. When the Constitutional Convention allocated two Senate seats to each state, the largest state had roughly 10 times the population of the smallest. Today, the population of California is 68 times that of Wyoming. Requiring 60 votes for legislation allows coalitions of senators who represent less than 5 percent of the U.S. population to block any law. Ending the filibuster would actually move the Senate closer to the kind of balance anticipated by the Framers.

The Senate should not be stalled by fears that members would miss the filibuster after it is gone. First, the shattering of norms over the past four years strongly suggests that it would be naive to constrain the Senate majority’s ability to pass legislation now in the hope that future majorities would reciprocate. Second, ending the filibuster in 2021 would allow for passage of essential reforms to voting rights and campaign finance rules. Those structural reforms would sharply reduce any risks to our democracy posed by majority rule in the Senate. Third, the filibuster is a recipe for the kind of gridlock that comforts only those who are already comfortable. But a pandemic, record unemployment, a rapidly deteriorating climate and the need to prove that Black lives matter suggest that it is time to value action over amiability.

Finally, ending the filibuster would recognize the increased partisanship in the Senate, rather than contribute to it.