May 19, 2024

of the minority

Today’s Events in Historical Perspective
America’s Longest-Running Column Founded 1932
Tyranny of the minority
By Douglas Cohn and Eleanor Clift
          WASHINGTON — It is one of the Constitution’s flaws that the Senate through its grossly unbalanced representation, filibuster, and the collateral impact on the Electoral College was set up in such a way that its protections against a tyrannical majority ballooned into the tyranny of the minority.
          Recent history lays bare the issue. The House passed a COVID-19 relief bill that 75 percent of the American people support, yet its passage in the Senate is not assured. Two other bills the House passed, one on election reform, the other on criminal justice reform, are likely to stall in the Senate because they lack the 60 votes necessary to overcome a filibuster.
          The only way the Covid bill can make it through the gauntlet is by a special budgetary procedure called “reconciliation” that allows legislation with significant economic impact to pass with a simple majority vote, in this case 50 Democratic votes with Vice President Harris casting the tie-breaking winning vote. 
          Is this any way to run a Senate? The answer is no, and if lawmakers don’t find a way to fix a broken system, the Senate will once again grind to a halt and public trust in government will continue to plummet.  
          There are some simple fixes if someone in charge – in this case, Senate Democrats – will dare to meet the challenge. They can lower the threshold to overcome a filibuster from 60 to 55 votes. Sixty is far too high in today’s America. This was addressed before in 1975 when Senator Walter Mondale, D-Minn., led the effort to reduce the filibuster from a two-thirds majority (67 votes) to the present three-fifths (60 votes). 
          The filibuster is not in the Constitution, and both Democrats and Republicans have altered it in recent Congresses to accommodate short-term politics. Democrats lifted the filibuster on executive appointments and judges, except for the Supreme Court, because Republican leader Sen. Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., used it to block virtually all of President Obama’s judicial appointments.
          McConnell then lifted the Supreme Court exception to guarantee that President Trump’s Supreme Court appointments would win confirmation without having to meet the 60-vote threshold. All three of Trump’s nominees received lifetime tenure on the highest court in the land with the bare minimum number of partisan votes.
          Another idea is to amend the Constitution by declaring that no state shall have more senators than representatives. At present, seven states are small enough to have only a single representative to the U.S. House, yet they have two senators. The inequity of this is obvious. Look at Wyoming with a population of 582,328 and California with almost 40 million people having equal representation in the Senate. Further, a state’s representation in the Electoral College is based upon each state’s number of senators and representatives, hence the collateral impact of small states on the electoral process.
          Focusing on the potential tyranny of the majority and assuring the rights of the minority (small states), the Founding Fathers designed the Senate to give all states an equal voice. But they could not have imagined a disparity as great as the one that currently exists between Wyoming and California, and between several other small states and mega-states like Texas, New York, and Florida.
          They did not seem greatly concerned about the tyranny of the minority, but they should have.
          Douglas Cohn’s latest books are World War 4: Nine Scenarios (endorsed by seven flag officers) and The President’s First Year: The Only School for Presidents Is the Presidency.
          Twitter:  @douglas_cohn
          © 2020 U.S. News Syndicate, Inc.
          Distributed by U.S. News Syndicate, Inc.

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