"The filibuster is not the problem, it is the Senate, itself. Its function throughout the history of the republic has been suspect. The Senate was created only because small states were afraid the populations of the large states would overwhelm the small. That difference never really materialized. Oh, there have been many disputes that pit large against small states, but none of these disputes were large enough to warrant creating an upper legislative house to lord over the republic. Had the states at the time of the writing of the Constitution been roughly equal in population, we may never have been saddled with a Senate. Our Senate was not based on the House of Lords; that body is based on class and heredity. Heredity never played a part in the Senate (Lodges, Gores and Kennedys were more about name recognition) and class was never as strong here as in Britain (ok, theoretically never as strong). Our upper house became something else entirely: the main arena for pro-slavery interests then for segregationists.
"Pro-slave interests fought for the creation of new slave states from the territories in the decades preceding the Civil War. They needed parity in the Senate to block anti-slave legislation. Then, after the Civil War, the Senate filibuster rule was the main legislative obstacle to ending segregation and passing civil rights laws and other anti-progressive legislation, as well. Filibustering civil rights lasted into LBJ's presidency (and beyond?). The Senate has been a lot of things in its over two centuries of existence, but this racial stain is its main claim to fame, until now.
"Senators are by neither birth nor education more capable of legislating than House members. Their contributions to the legislative process are not on some higher level than the House (note Sen. Susan Collins' ideas about the Constitution). The House once had the filibuster, and if it were the only legislative body, it might bring it back, but maintaining party discipline over a larger group would be more difficult than in a 50 member Senate. It is habit and magical thinking that keeps us clinging to the idea of two legislative bodies. Of course I know we will not eliminate the Senate. But it is not unfair to describe it as a legislative body that has outlived its original function and that holds sway over the republic with a rule it keeps alive to throttle itself."
We want to hear what you think about this article. Submit a letter to the editor or write to email@example.com.
James Fallows is a staff writer at The Atlantic and has written for the magazine since the late 1970s. He has reported extensively from outside the United States and once worked as President Jimmy Carter's chief speechwriter. He and his wife, Deborah Fallows, are the authors of the 2018 book Our Towns: A 100,000-Mile Journey Into the Heart of America, which was a national best seller and is the basis of a forthcoming HBO documentary.