Matt Yglesias and Kevin Drum are defending the elimination of the filibuster on the grounds that unpopular legislation will fail even if a majority of legislators are behind it. (From their lips to God's ear . . . ) I find it interesting that a major word is missing from the discussion: abortion. The most successful Democratic use of the filibuster has, of course, been against judges who might overturn Roe v. Wade. If it weren't for the filibuster, it's pretty likely that a play to overturn Roe would even now be wending its way through the courts, to a probably-successful conclusion. Other treasured liberal programs like affirmative action, and certain kinds of environmental regulations, would probably also be in serious danger.
Why is abortion missing from this discussion, especially when it is currently more central to our main public policy debate than the filibuster? The filibuster has allowed Democrats to impose a minority view of abortion rights on the country; saying that unpopular legislation tends to fail is true, but not complete, because that is not the most powerful effect to which Democrats have used it.
Now, maybe it's worth sacrificing some abortion rights in order to secure legislation. Me, I'm comfortable with the filibuster, because I think that in a democracy as pluralistic as ours, the government needs a way for sizable minorities to influence policy. But I think you have to be more explicit about the tradeoffs when you discuss eliminating it.
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