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Rep. John Lewis (D-GA) speaking out against a Republican measure that would de-fund the Voting Rights Act of 1965. Screenshot via C-SPAN.

Dem. Reps and Common Cause file suit to rule filibuster unconstitutional

The nonprofit citizens’ advocacy group Common Cause, a coalition of Democratic congressmen and a group of students are jointly filing suit in the U.S. District Court in Washington, D.C. to declare that the Senate’s filibuster rule is unconstitutional and “violates the core American principal of majority rule,” according to a press release from Common Cause.

Steve Spaulding, staff counsel for Common Cause, told Raw Story that the current system serves no one and now that Republicans have “ratcheted up the obstructionism,” the filibuster has gone from an “instrument of procedure to an instrument of policy,” meaning that Republicans are using it in place of an actual legislative agenda, choosing gridlock over any form of compromise.

“We need 60 votes to do anything,” said Spaulding, including changing the Senate’s rules, which means that nothing can be done to alter the situation, either.

Common Cause joins House Democrats Keith Ellison (MN), John Lewis (GA), Hank Johnson (GA) and Michael Michaud (ME) in the suit, as well as three young people brought to the U.S. as children by their Mexican parents, and who were denied a track to citizenship when Congress filibustered the DREAM Act, stranding them in legal limbo. The attorney handling the suit is constitutional law veteran Emmet J. Bondurant, who was named one of the top ten trial lawyers in the U.S. by the National Law Journal.

Spaulding told Raw Story that the suit allows for a continued requirement of super-majority votes of 60 or more to impeach a president, ratify a treaty or override a presidential veto. Earlier this year, Senators Tom Harkin (D-IA) and Tom Udall (D-NM) tried to lead an effort to reform the filibuster rule without a court battle, but to no avail.

Bob Edgar, president and CEO of Common Cause said that because 60 votes are needed to even get legislation debated on the Senate floor, even the most routine bills and procedures are getting blocked.

“The filibuster has even been used to block an annual defense authorization bill, with provides badly needed raises for our troops,” he wrote in this morning’s press release, “This is not what the founders had in mind. We have no choice but to ask the courts to step in and enforce the Constitution as a matter of law.”

Attorney Bondurant said that what is needed is a rule that permits extended debate but guarantees a simple majority vote at the end of the day. The 53-page complaint(.pdf) filed today details the suit as well as the history of the filibuster from a device that guaranteed open, vigorous debate on the Senate floor, but which is new used stifle debate and block action on matters critical to the country.

Written by | David Ferguson

David Ferguson is an editor at Raw Story. He was previously writer and radio producer in Athens, Georgia, hosting two shows for Georgia Public Broadcasting and blogging at Firedoglake.com and elsewhere. He is currently working on a book.

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