Massachusetts Values and the Filibuster: A Short History

At a recent interview with Axios, Elizabeth Warren complained that the Senate filibuster has”deep roots in racism” and then lambasted it for providing”a veto for the minority.” Warren does not doubt that the filibuster was designed for the sole intent of giving”the South the capacity to veto any civil rights legislation or anti-lynching legislation.” All these are serious charges against a principle that, based in 1806, has for more than two decades given life to the Senate’s identity as”the world’s greatest deliberative body.”

If Warren is correct that the filibuster has ever been only a weapon for homeless Southerners, then one would expect that Senators from Massachusetts have constantly been at the forefront of attempts to destroy the filibuster rule. Although Lodge had railed against Senate obstruction as a young Congressman in 1893, he confessed that”within a year or 2″ of his ascension to the Senate, he’d concluded that the filibuster was a smart practice and that its annihilation would”change completely the character of the Senate.” Lodge argued that the filibuster wasn’t only a disposable procedural principle, but a clinic that followed naturally by the structural philosophy of the United States Senate, which he admired for its emphasis on deliberation, minority rights, and traditionalism.

The Senate Is Not the Home

Although he’s well-known due to his successful struggle in 1919 as Senate Majority Leader to keep America from their League of Nations, Lodge was also a multi-purpose historian and political event. He was among the first citizens of the United States to be given a Ph.D. in history and government, and–even while he served as a Senator–his own inaugural outcome was impressive. Inconveniently for Elizabeth Warren, Lodge was likewise a company New Englander in both his ancestry and his own intellectual commitments, therefore his defense of the filibuster cannot readily be dismissed as a specious rationalization for both Southern slavocracy. Despite the fact that this invoice suffered defeat at the hands of a partisan Democratic filibuster, Lodge did not let his disappointment to modify his view of the filibuster rule. “I was profoundly and intensely interested in the force bill, because it was called,” he represented in a Senate speech in 1903:

I had it accountable in the House of Representatives and that I saw it defeated on this floor by means of obstruction. But, Mr. President, I had much rather take the chances of occasional obstruction than to place the Senate in the place where invoices could be pushed through under rules which might be totally essential in a big body such as the House of Representatives or in the House of Commons, but that are not mandatory here. I think here we should have, minority and majority alike, the benefit opportunity of disagreement.

Lodge did not respect the Senate filibuster as a tool to entrench minority principle but rather claimed that it was a method of improving and refining majority principle. The filibuster assured that the”majority in this Senate” will be”something more than the numerical majority at any given time” Lodge recognized that the Senate’s protections for discussion supplied minorities and majorities alike with the capacity to enhance the public thoughts on proposed legislation. Members could bring each one of a bill’s consequences to the attention of these people before the next election. The vote threshold to end filibusters, based in 1917, would encourage the vast majority party to build a real majority coalition for bills–not just a narrow or changing bulk –by working to obtain some support from members of the minority party. The best value of the filibuster rested in the fact that it guaranteed that there will be”one body in the authorities at which disagreement cannot be closed off at the will of a partisan majority.”

The Senate was designed to represent”a political entity as distinct as possible” in the House of Representatives–specifically, the states.Lodge would undoubtedly lament recent modifications to the filibuster that have deemphasized debate on the floor by political minoritiesturning it into a mere procedural mechanism to kill invoices. Even the filibuster as Lodge understood it functioned best when it eased discussion on the Senate floor also –known in this light–Joe Biden’s recent proposal to reestablish the”talking filibuster” may be unbelievably in keeping with the customs of the upper chamber as Lodge knew themso long as it isn’t a stepping stone to radical alterations. In needing members of the minority to stay on the floor and speak for hours at one time, the talking filibuster occupies a load on the minority. On the other hand, the majority must remain on the floor and think about the views of their minority Senator. Trade-offs exist for both the majority and the minority. Although the potential for obstruction nevertheless stays, Lodge would maintain that this possibility is due by the simple fact that all bookings to invoices could be articulated to the people with no slender majority shutting down discussion. Lodge would not sanction the abandonment of their filibuster in favor of absolute majority principle, but he’d likely have severe reservations with the”quiet filibuster” for downplaying discussion and being much more inclined to abuse.

Lodge implied that attempts to abolish the filibuster signaled a basic misunderstanding of the Senate as an institution. Every member of the home of Representatives is elected biannually, so that body has quite a real mandate to express the shifting mood of the nation’s voters with prompt legislation. The filibuster rule will thus be wholly inappropriate that there, particularly since the House’s immense size exacerbated the possibility of misuse from obstructionists. Lodge claimed, however, that the Senate is fundamentally distinct from the House in its own structure and assignment. The Senate does not represent”a vast majority of Republicans put off in arbitrary districts,” because the House of Representatives does. Nor will the Senate intend to let majority rule to become”rashly or exercised.” In reality, Lodge insisted that the Senate existed to represent the states as political societies–maybe perhaps not the vast majority of the nation’s voters–he expressed that among its most profound purposes was to check the rash legislation that would necessarily be generated from the House of Representatives.

Unlike Warren’s proclamation that the purpose of the Senate is to promote majority principle, Lodge argued that the Senate was not meant to institutionalize the rule of nearly all voters throughout the country. The Senate was designed to represent”a political entity as distinct as possible” in the House of Representatives–namely, the states. The Senate was composed”not of agents of hot constituencies, but of those ambassadors of sovereign States.” The identifying constituency of the Senate, to Lodge, accounted for its own power and prestige within an institution. “One amazing secret of the potency and impact of the Senate,” Lodge commented,”has become the simple fact that it did not represent the same constituencies as the House of Representatives.” Because the Senate represents states by affording them equal representation regardless of people, it’s impossible to assert that it was made to convey a purist notion of national majority principle. To the contrary, the Senate’s aim was to protect the rights of taxpayers in tiny states from tyrannical actions by the powerful national majorities that would dominate the lower chamber. The consequences of this truth for the filibuster rule are enormous. As Lodge recognized it, the filibuster aligned with the essential mission of the Senate–especially, to safeguard political minorities from potentially tyrannical decisions by political majorities.

To Lodge, the equality of these states in the Senate wasn’t only a peripheral feature of the Constitution. Without this,”there probably will have been no Constitution at all.” He confessed that the equality of these states wasn’t, since Warren and others of her ilk might believe, produced by Southern slaveholders at the Constitutional Convention. Both men most responsible for this particular feature of the inherent system were two New England statesmen: Oliver Ellsworth and Roger Sherman. Lodge praised Ellsworth and Sherman for realizing in the Convention that”the sole path to success lay through grafting a new administration upon the State government” For Lodge, as for Ellsworth and Sherman, the states were more than just artificial entities that amassed individual voters into convenient districts. The states were exceptional political leaders with their own habits, customs, and customs, and each mightily contributed to the total health of the national republic. Lodge questioned whether the national authorities may be genuinely representative if it gave the states no more voice in the affairs of the government. “Even the abolition of these States,” he emphasized,”would indicate the loss or the ruin of the great principle of neighborhood self-government, which is located at the root of free popular authorities and of democracy.”

If the equality of these states in the Senate wasn’t sufficient to imply that the upper chamber represented the states, the original style of appointment for Senators explained this truth beyond all doubt. Lodge lauded the Framers because of their wisdom in giving state legislatures the right to choose Senators, the mode of election that prevailed until the passing of the Seventeenth Amendment in 1913. Because Senators reacted to the state legislatures, the Senate functioned as a sober association, one insulated against the violent passions of national partisan politics. Lodge argued that, historically, the participation of the state legislatures in the variety of Senators created able legislators who gave”potency and persistence” to the administration of authorities in the United States.

Lodge forecast that the Seventeenth Amendment would harm the”quality and character” of the Senate by giving its members of an interest in winning popular re-election contests compared to forging laws to express the deliberative will of their country.The staggered six-year term in office for instance, in conjunction with their regular reappointment from the state legislatures, produced men who”had terms of service ranging from twelve to more than thirty decades.” Their extended service gave them a vested interest in the establishment of the Senate, much less a mere platform to conduct a viable presidential campaign, but as a deliberative association that valued stability, convention, and persistence.

The Progressives were deeply uneasy with the Senate due to its structural regard for federalism and traditionalism, and they fought for the direct election of Senators to create the upper chamber more immediately responsive to the will of the nation’s voters. Lodge called in 1902 that if the Progressives successfully amended the Constitution to pick up by direct popular vote”the most radical revolution conceivable will take place within our form of government.” As he explained:

We exclusively among the nations possessing representative government have fully solved the issue of an upper House resting upon an independent basis and effective in legislation. If the Senate is put upon exactly the same basis as the House and has been selected in exactly the same way from exactly the same constituency, its own character and meaning depart, the States will probably be hopelessly weakened, the balance of the Constitution will be destroyed, centralization will advance with giant strides, and that we will enter upon a period of constitutional revolution of that the end cannot be foretold.

Lodge feared that the passing of the Seventeenth Amendment would distort the public’s perception of the Senate as an institution. Because the equality of these states remained, he thought that the Amendment neglected to abrogate the basic, non-majoritarian principle of the Senate; namely, representation for the states instead of national majorities. Nevertheless, he predicted that the Amendment would harm the”quality and character” of the Senate by giving its members of an interest in winning popular re-election contests compared to forging laws to express the deliberative will of the nation. Furthermore, with the conditions exiled in the variety of Senators, the upper chamber would wrongly start to perceive itself chiefly as a majoritarian, nationwide body as opposed to as a federalist association depending upon deliberation and consensus. Lodge ominously forecast that the victory of the Seventeenth Amendment would inspire inspire people to abolish other features of their constitutional system that encouraged local self-government, such as the Electoral College and the equality of the states in the Senate. Understood in this light, recent majoritarian strikes on the filibuster follow quite naturally from the specious thinking that directed the architects of the Seventeenth Amendment.

More than a hundred years following the passing of the Seventeenth Amendment, the Democratic Senate leadership is seriously contemplating abolishing the filibuster, among the remaining vestiges of the institution’s deliberative past. Elizabeth Warren, that retains the same Senate seat that Lodge formerly did, expects to destroy the filibuster to thrust the”For the Individuals Act of 2021″ via Congress with as little deliberation as possible. In doing this, Warren and her allies are indulging in a very long Progressive tradition of advancing radical change to the American political system in the title of”the people.” Lodge himself noted in 1911 that Progressives spoke”constantly about trusting the people and obeying the people’s will.” In truthhe averred,”that isn’t exactly what they seek.” The real aim of Progressivism was to ensconce the principle of a”narrow, ephemeral, and changing majority” at the expense of the long-term, stable, and deliberative are of the American individuals.

Lodge argued that the allegedly democratic agenda of the Progressives would always result in the passing of”legislation of their very radical, the most radical character”–not legislation representing the real consensus of the entire society.As the American individuals confront a Congress that’s bent on living up to those dark predictions, they would be wise to think about the admonitions of Henry Cabot Lodge a century past.