Wednesday, August 05, 2009

Because the filibuster is in the news again:

A repeat of a post from June 2007.
It's worse than that:

E.J. Dionne writes:
... those who attack the system don't actually want to change it much. For example, there's a very good case for abolishing the U.S. Senate. It often distorts the popular will since senators representing 18 percent of the population can cast a majority of the Senate's votes. And as Sen. John McCain said over the weekend, "The Senate works in a way that relatively small numbers can block legislation."
Look at what it takes to block legislation (or a censure resolution). All it takes is a filibuster and a subsequent failure to invoke cloture. Invoking cloture reqires 60 votes. So if one side has 41 votes, that's enough to block legislation. All it takes is 41 Senators from 21 states.

Under a worse case scenario, Senators from the 21 least-populous states could block legislation. How many people are in those 21 states?

If you look at the List of U.S. states by population, we find that out of a total of 300 million for the country, there are 37 million in the 21 least-populous states. That amounts to 12.4% of the population, or one in eight.

But wait, there's more!

Taking this further, it's possible that in each of the 21 least-populous states, the senator was elected with a vote of 50% +1. Effectively half the population of each state. So it could take as little as 18 milliion people (6.2%) to elect enough senators to stop action on a particular bill. That's one in 16 people. And that explains, in part, how anti-democratic (and pro-plutocratic) the Senate can be.

One in 16 is all it takes.

CLARIFICATION: Not everybody votes or can vote, but the ratios still apply.


The Senate was never supposed to have anything to do with the popular will. The popular will is fully represented by the House of Representatives.

The Senate was intended to represent the interests of the state legislatures. That's why, prior to the 17th Amendment, Senators were state appointees.

You can make the argument that the Senate "distorts the popular will", but to the extent that the Senate still represents the interests of the various states, that's a feature, not a bug. It keeps the states with large populations from rampaging over the states with small populations.

By Anonymous Anonymous, at 8/05/2009 4:41 PM  

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