The Senate never made a conscious choice to operate this way, and its leading lights denounced the decline of the upper chamber, many of them moderates. Horrified by Calhoun’s innovation, Henry Clay of Kentucky, the Great Compromiser, was the first to try to limit the filibuster. In 1957, the Eisenhower administration backed filibuster reform in an effort to pass civil rights, but was outmaneuvered by Southerners. In the mid-2000s, the constitutional case for restoring majority rule was laid out compellingly by Martin Gold, who had been chief counsel to the Republican Senate leader Howard Baker, and Dimple Gupta, who worked in the Justice Department under George W. Bush.

As these moderates of both parties saw, reform is necessary because Senate obstruction has evolved exactly as the framers feared when they warned against enabling a “pertinacious minority” to “control the opinion of a majority.” Calhoun’s vision of a minority veto has come to pass.

The key to reform is eliminating the minority’s ability to impose a supermajority threshold on legislation while still giving the minority a platform and making it easier for senators to bring bills and amendments up for votes.