Defending the Filibuster

Defending the Filibuster

The Soul of the Senate
Arenberg, Richard A.; Dove, Robert B.
Distribution: World
Publication date: 08/21/2012
Format: Hardback 1 table
ISBN: 978-0-253-00191-7
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Winner, 2012 ForeWord Reviews Book of the Year, Gold Medal in Political Science

Recent legislative battles over healthcare reform, the federal budget, and other prominent issues have given rise to widespread demands for the abolition or reform of the filibuster in the US Senate. Critics argue that members’ traditional rights of unlimited debate and amendment have led to paralyzing requirements for supermajorities and destructive parliamentary tactics such as "secret holds." In Defending the Filibuster, a veteran Senate aide and a former Senate Parliamentarian maintain that the filibuster is fundamental to the character of the Senate. They contend that the filibuster protects the rights of the minority in American politics, assures stability and deliberation in government, and helps to preserve constitutional principles of checks and balances and separation of powers. Richard A. Arenberg and Robert B. Dove provide an instructive historical overview of the development of Senate rules, define and describe related procedures and tactics, examine cases related to specific pieces of legislation, and consider current proposals to end the filibuster or enact other reforms. Arguing passionately in favor of retaining the filibuster, they offer a stimulating assessment of the issues surrounding current debates on this contentious issue.

Author Bio

RICHARD A. ARENBERG served in senior congressional staff positions for 34 years as an aide to Majority Leader George Mitchell and Senators Paul Tsongas and Carl Levin. He currently is an Adjunct Lecturer in Political Science and Public Policy at Brown University, Northeastern University, and Suffolk University.

ROBERT B. DOVE is Parliamentarian Emeritus of the U.S. Senate, having served as the Senate’s Parliamentarian and Assistant Parliamentarian from 1966 until 2001. He has provided expert parliamentary advice to legislatures around the world. He currently is an Adjunct Professor at the Georgetown University Law Center, George Washington University, and George Mason University and counsels members of the Patton Boggs law firm on congressional procedure.


As we would expect from two experts who were part of so many historic Senate debates in the past thirty years, Rich Arenberg and Bob Dove have written an historically grounded and eloquent defense of the Senate’s tradition of protecting minority views by allowing extended debate until 60 Senators vote to end it. They defend this tradition as the ‘soul of the Senate’ because it protects minority rights and helps Senators reach a consensus or compromise on controversial legislation. They acknowledge that those who have routinely and repeatedly resorted to the threat of the filibuster in recent years are abusing the rules, but Arenberg and Dove offer some practical reforms to the Senate rules that preserve the principle while removing the abuse, such as limiting or even eliminating debate on the motion to proceed to a bill. But ultimately, as the book effectively demonstrates, the problem of gridlock and obstruction in the Senate is not so much in the Senate rules, but rather, as Senator Harry Reid, the Senate Majority Leader, puts it, ‘It is in the lack of restraint in the exercise of the prerogatives under the rules.’To anyone who knows and loves the Senate, and to anyone who wants to know more about American politics and history, this book is a joy to read. Two of the most respected people to work in the Senate over the past several decades have teamed up to write a book about the filibuster, but not just a memoir or a rigid defense of the practice. Rich Arenberg and Bob Dove provide fascinating history, much of it new to me, insightful examples from their own service, and reasoned arguments in clear language. Every reformer, including those who want to eliminate the filibuster entirely, and those who want to change it to fit the times, owes it to himself or herself to read this book and ponder the authors' message. If it doesn't make you stop and think through your own assumptions again, the problem lies with you and not in this excellent book.While I am not a fan of the filibuster, this is probably the most thoughtful treatment of the subject ever written and well worth pondering even for those of us who think it is profoundly undemocratic. A must read for any student of the Congressional process.An historically grounded and eloquent defense of the Senate's tradition of protecting minority views by allowing extended debate until sixty Senators vote to end it.A timely, well-researched, and cogently argued defense of the filibuster by two veterans of the Senate staff who understand the issue and its consequences.A timely, well-researched, and cogently argued defense of the filibuster by two veterans of the Senate staff who understand the issue and its consequences.An historically grounded and eloquent defense of the Senate's tradition of protecting minority views by allowing extended debate until sixty Senators vote to end it.During my years in the Senate, I learned that you should never get involved in a legislative fight without Bob Dove's advice on counsel. Nobody knows more about the rules and history of the Senate than he does. Defending the Filibuster: Soul of the Senate should be required reading for anyone who wants to understand one of the hallmarks of our democracy.In this excellent volume, two extraordinarily qualified Senate veterans explain and defend, with clarity and impressive research, the Senate filibuster. With their deep understanding of, and respect for, the institution of the Senate, they point to the need to protect minority rights and to build consensus--and they propose evolutionary reforms to reduce filibuster abuse. This book deserves to be read and considered carefully by all who respect, and want to understand better, the world’s greatest deliberative body.

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Table of Contents

Chapter One Soul of the Senate
Chapter Two Filibuster, Cloture, and Unfettered Amendment
Chapter Three History of the Filibuster
Chapter Four Polarized Politics and the Use and Abuse of the Filibuster
Chapter Five Criticisms of the Filibuster
Chapter Six The Dangers of Overzealous Reform
Chapter Seven Related Tactics: Holds
Chapter Eight Related Tactics: Filling the Amendment Tree
Chapter Nine Circumventing the Filibuster: Reconciliation
Chapter Ten Reforming the Filibuster: The Constitutional Option
Chapter Eleven Reforming the Filibuster: The Nuclear Option
Chapter Twelve Bring In the Cots
Chapter Thirteen Defending the Filibuster

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