With the U.S. Senate preparing to coalesce around a set of proposed rules reforms this week, leading political scientists and legal scholars issued a letter today outlining the need for rules reform and recommending specific ways to improve the democratic process. 

While there is ongoing debate and accompanying negotiations in the Senate about the final content of a proposed reform package, Fix the Senate Now remains supportive of common sense reforms that make the Senate more transparent and accountable.  The coalition supports efforts to streamline the nominations process and to ensure that Senators have to take the floor and debate during a filibuster.  In a letter issued to California Sen. Dianne Feinstein, 30 California-based academics laid out a similar vision, designed to address current Senate dysfunction and to improve the chamber’s transparency and accountability.

Relying on research by prominent political scientist Barbara Sinclair – one of the signers – the letter notes that, “the filibuster is more an historical accident than an intended legacy of the constitutional framers,” and documents that in the “1960s, threatened or actual filibusters affected only 8 percent of major legislation.  By the 1980s, threatened or actual filibusters affected 27 percent of legislation.  Since 2006, that number has reached 70 percent.  This means that the vast majority of major legislation‐‐and many nominations as well‐‐require 60 votes for cloture.”

The letter also states support for “common‐sense adjustments that will improve the functioning of the Senate without dramatically reinventing the nature of the body.”  Specifically, the signers recommend the “burden of sustaining a filibuster should shift from the majority to the minority” to offer an “added degree of transparency and accountability” to Senate proceedings.  The signers also call for a “legislative process that prioritizes open debate and accountable voting,” describing a Senate reformed in that direction as “preferable to the current process, filled with numerous procedural roadblocks.”

  • In addition to the academics’ letter, state editorial boards continue to weigh in on behalf of substantive Senate rules reform.  Yesterday, for example, the Palm Beach Post editorialized in favor of the package of reforms introduced by Senator Tom Udall, D-N.M., writing that the “proposed reforms are a good compromise.  They would preserve the filibuster for those who have a cause and courage, and make it much easier for legislation and nominations to get a fair hearing and, most important, a vote.”   

For more information on why rules reform is needed and why reform adheres to historical precedent, visit the Fix the Senate Now website—a one-stop-shop for rules reform news, data, and historical information.  The site includes a series of resources that outline why rules reform is essential for the health of our democracy. 

Link to full letter from CA-based academics: http://fixthesenatenow.org/page/-/fix-the-senate-now/CA_Academics_Letter_to_Sen_Feinstein.pdf