Defending the Filibuster: The Soul of the Senate

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Indiana University Press, 2012 - Law - 261 pages
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Recent legislative battles over healthcare reform, the federal budget, and other prominent issues have given rise to widespread demands for the abolition or reform of the filibuster in the US Senate. Critics argue that members' traditional rights of unlimited debate and amendment have led to paralyzing requirements for supermajorities and destructive parliamentary tactics such as "secret holds." In Defending the Filibuster, a veteran Senate aide and a former Senate Parliamentarian maintain that the filibuster is fundamental to the character of the Senate. They contend that the filibuster protects the rights of the minority in American politics, assures stability and deliberation in government, and helps to preserve constitutional principles of checks and balances and separation of powers. Richard A. Arenberg and Robert B. Dove provide an instructive historical overview of the development of Senate rules, define and describe related procedures and tactics, examine cases related to specific pieces of legislation, and consider current proposals to end the filibuster or enact other reforms. Arguing passionately in favor of retaining the filibuster, they offer a stimulating assessment of the issues surrounding current debates on this contentious issue.


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The U.S. Senate filibuster rule is on the front burner of American politics in a way that it has not been since the civil rights era of the 1950s and 1960s. Arenberg and Dow, eschewing the usual “now on the one hand…” approach, make a strongly reasoned case for the necessity of the filibuster (although they are open to several significant reforms). Their argument will require opponents of the filibuster to make an equally detailed case for abolition or radical change of Rule 22. The prose is clear and always readable which is most helpful on a journey that assays the historical, theoretical, and tactical aspects of the filibuster as it has emerged in the culture of the Senate. Importantly, this is a book about dealing with minority rights—a challenge for all democratic political systems and a conundrum for many. The book is an invaluable resource as this important meta-debate continues. 


1 Soul of the Senate
2 Filibuster Cloture and Unfettered Amendment
3 History of the Filibuster
4 Polarized Politics and the Use and Abuse of the Filibuster
5 Criticisms of the Filibuster
6 The Dangers of Overzealous Reform
Filling the Amendment Tree
The Nuclear Option
12 Bring in the Cots
13 Defending the Filibuster
Selected Bibliography

The Constitutional Option

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About the author (2012)

RICHARD A. ARENBERG served in senior congressional staff positions for 34 years as an aide to Majority Leader George Mitchell and Senators Paul Tsongas and Carl Levin. He currently is an Adjunct Lecturer in Political Science and Public Policy at Brown University, Northeastern University, and Suffolk University.

ROBERT B. DOVE is Parliamentarian Emeritus of the U.S. Senate, having served as the Senate s Parliamentarian and Assistant Parliamentarian from 1966 until 2001. He has provided expert parliamentary advice to legislatures around the world. He currently is an Adjunct Professor at the Georgetown University Law Center, George Washington University, and George Mason University and counsels members of the Patton Boggs law firm on congressional procedure.

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