Dr. Jillian T. Weiss

Senate "Monkey Wrench" Rule Repeal Only Needs 51 Votes

Filed By Dr. Jillian T. Weiss | February 15, 2010 9:30 AM | comments

Filed in: Politics
Tags: Angle v. Guinn, Employment Non-Discrimination Act, ENDA, filibuster reform, Reid, supermajority

In my last post, I reviewed two court cases bearing on the Senate filibuster rule. These cases, U.S. v. Ballin and Skaggs v. Carle, strongly suggest that the Senate "monkey wrench" rule can be broken by a simple majority vote of the Senate -- 51 votes -- rather than the two third majority -- 67 votes -- demanded by Majority Leader Harry Reid. Thumbnail image for Monkey wrench rule.jpgI've decided to call it the "monkey wrench" rule because its effect is essentially to throw a "monkey wrench" into the works, preventing majority rule from operating properly. (I came up with that name in response to Rachel Maddow's "Filibuster Challenge.") I also discussed there how Harkin's rule avoids the tired argument that revising the filibuster means the end of debate on controversial issues.

If we want ENDA, DADT repeal or DOMA repeal, we must support Senator Tom Harkin's Senate Resolution 416, and we must teach "Majority" Leader Harry Reid how to do math: 51 is a majority of 100, not the 67 votes that he is demanding for change.

A case that was appealed to the US Supreme Court in 2004 also suggests that a simple majority is enough. Call Senator Harry Reid and demand that he allow a majority vote on Senate Resolution 416 to amend the filibuster rules. (202) 224-3121.

By the way, Vice-President Biden said on CBS Face The Nation yesterday that the abuse of the filibuster is the worst he'd ever seen in his 36 years in the Senate. The Miami Herald had a very informative article on the Republican "filibuster everything" strategy yesterday, and so did the UPI. The whip count from Open Left shows that the number of supportive Senators is growing, and it also acknowledges that only 51 votes are required to change the rule.

For example, in the 2004 case of Angle v. Guinn, 541 U.S. 957 (2004), the U.S. Supreme Court rejected the petition of members of the Nevada Legislature who were upset that a simple majority was able to pass a law. The Nevada Constitution had been amended a decade years earlier to require a two-third majority for any tax increase. The Legislature adjourned in 2003 after passing a budget that included zero dollars for education. This violated the Nevada Constitution, which requires that the state have a public education system.

The Governor of Nevada called a special session of the Legislature to consider bills funding the Nevada public school system. A majority of the Nevada Legislature voted in favor of the bills. Although they failed to garner the 2/3 vote required by the Constitution, the Speaker of the Assembly gaveled the bill "passed."

The legislators opposing the bills sued to stop their implementation, and the Nevada Supreme Court denied their petition on that ground that a simple majority was sufficient to change the rule. The losing legislators had the right to ask for an appeal directly to the United States Supreme Court, and they did. They filed a writ in the US Supreme Court.

The U.S. Supreme Court denied the writ, effectively upholding the Nevada Speaker and the bills that were passed with a simple majority. While the US Supreme Court says that denying such a writ only means it refuses to consider the case -- the unavoidable corollary is that the problem wasn't very important.

Harry Reid is dead wrong about the 67-vote guideline on changing Senate rules. Yes, it is there now -- but it can be changed by a simple majority of 51 on Harkin's Senate Resolution 416. But Harry Reid insists on interpreting this guideline as inscribed in stone. Why does Harry Reid insist on 67 votes? Call Senator Harry Reid and demand that he allow a majority vote on Senate Resolution 416 to amend the filibuster rules. (202) 224-3121.


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I honestly do not understand Reid or Pelosi at this point. Even with 59 seats, the Democrats still control the Senate, and they're acting like whipped little puppies. This makes no sense whatsoever. Yes, it's an election year (these days, arent they all?), but to cave in the face of such a radical political minority will just increase the doubts on their leadershp capabilities.

They are running scared, just as you suggest, Sean. We need to give them a spine transplant, as Howard Dean suggested.

Maybe we need a new Senate Majority Leader. Al Franken would do a better job.

Oh I agree that Reid is useless. I do not know how he come to be Majority Leader in the Senate but that is a rule that needs to be looked at as well.

This is starting to reek of 2015. Maybe trans people should fight against being included in ENDA. At least we would not be legislated out of the bathroom by a stinking act of congress.

um... I know where I can get my hands on a 3 foot long monkey wrench. I'm so frustrated now I'm just about willing to use it.

My only problem is which monkey to use it on first.
The ones that won't lead or the one's that won't follow.

I tried to leave a phone message for Senator Reid. I got the mailbox for Senator Reid is full. So I tried to get through to the staffers, and was redirected to the mailbox which was of course full. I tried again only to find there was no answer. So much for trying to contact Senator Reid. My guess is that Senator Reid really does not care to hear from us anyway, and that those who command his attention have another number to call.

It is getting frustrating, because the dems have fewer and fewer excuses for not getting anything done. And yet they continue to not get anything done.

I did manage to speak to a staffer from Reid's office today and add my voice for what good it might do. Now on to Levin and Stabenow.