David Frum

12.21.12

Cato's Case Against the Filibuster

Rob Goodman and Jimmy Soni presented the Roman case against the filibuster back in March of 2011. (Emphasis mine.)

Our democratic norms are too strong for senators to ever fear a president governing like a Caesar. And our legislatures aren't hurt by the occasional obstruction that forces public debate on a divisive issue under extraordinary circumstances -- yet ultimately gives way, as in Wisconsin, to the majority and the next election.

But when the filibuster starts to become the rule, rather than the exception, the minority may find itself with more and more power in a Congress that matters less and less. Minority rule will ultimately mean more power for the presidency, the lawyers who draft executive orders, unelected judges, and the federal bureaucracy. Placing limits on the filibuster is the wisest course for any senator who cares about the institution's future.

There's a reason, after all, that there's no filibuster written into the Constitution. Our Founders were deeply read in classical history, and they had good reason to fear the consequences of a legislature addicted to minority rule. As Alexander Hamilton wrote in The Federalist No. 22, "If a pertinacious minority can control the opinion of a majority...[the government's] situation must always savor of weakness, sometimes border upon anarchy." It was true in the time of Cato, and it's still true today.