Common Cause, Members of Congress, and DREAM Act Beneficiaries Ask Supreme Court to Throw Out Senate’s 60-Vote Filibuster Rule

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  • Dale Eisman

WASHINGTON, D.C. —  The U.S. Senate’s filibuster rule and its 60-vote requirement for action on routine Senate business should be declared unconstitutional, Common Cause argues in an appeal to the U.S. Supreme Court.

In papers placed on the Supreme Court docket last week, the government reform group and other parties to its case against the 60-vote rule argue that the Constitution requires a supermajority only in limited instances – for example, to ratify a treaty or override a veto – but not to pass legislation. The Senate cannot use its rulemaking power to change the number of votes necessary to pass a bill, according to the legal complaint.

In April, a three-judge panel of the D.C. Circuit dismissed the case, Common Cause v. Biden, on procedural grounds without reaching the merits. Common Cause’s filing with the Supreme Court argues that the lower court erred; through previous Supreme Court decisions, it “has been long settled … that the rules of Congress” are subject to judicial review, the brief asserts.

“We are approaching the end of the least productive Congress in the nation’s history,” said Miles Rapoport, President of Common Cause. “Gridlock and dysfunction – caused in part by rampant abuse of the Senate’s undemocratic rules – are its legacy. The 60-vote rule has been used to shut down debate and prevent up-or-down votes on solutions to some of our nation’s critical problems, from a living wage to immigration reform to shining a light on the hundreds of millions of secret dollars that infect our elections.”

Other parties to the case, which was originally filed in 2012, include U.S. Representatives John Lewis (D-GA), Keith Ellison (D-MN), Michael Michaud (D-ME), Hank Johnson (D-GA), and three DREAM Act beneficiaries Erika Andiola, Celso Mireles and Caesar Vargas.

“The Constitution’s framers considered and rejected a supermajority to pass routine legislation, on the grounds that it would be used to ‘destroy the energy of government.’ The scope of the Senate’s rulemaking power is a matter of law, and we hope that the Supreme Court will agree to hear this case of national importance,” said Rapoport.

The Supreme Court is expected to rule sometime in the 2014 Term on whether it will agree to hear the case. The term begins next month.

Common Cause is represented by Emmet Bondurant, a member of Common Cause’s National Governing Board.