Pass legislation creating targeted exceptions to the filibuster via issue-specific limitations on debate for future pieces of legislation.Presented by Molly Reynolds
Filibuster reform proposals
A forum for proposals to reform the filibuster and restore the ability of the Senate to effectively consider and act on legislation.
Require that 41 senators vote to continue to debate, rather than requiring 60 senators to vote to end debate.Presented by Norman J. Ornstein
Allowing legislation to advance with support from a majority of Senators who also represent a majority of the population.Presented by Matthew Stephenson, Kenneth Shepsle, and Jonathan Gould
Exempt legislation related to voting rights and other core democracy issues from the filibuster.Presented by Mel Barnes and Norman Eisen
A failed cloture vote would trigger successive rounds of debate and voting with the threshold for cloture dropping each time until a simple majority would suffice to end debate.Presented by Sarah Binder
More proposals to come
About the Senate Filibuster
The Constitution grants the United States Senate the power to determine their own rules, and the Senate has changed its rules – including the filibuster – many times throughout its history.
Under the current rules of the Senate, a single Senator indicating their objection to a measure forces the majority supporting that legislation to garner a 60-vote supermajority in order for the bill to advance. Senators need not engage in debate over the bill, but can still vote against bringing debate over a bill to a close.
This requirement is not part of the Constitution, nor was it part of the original rules of the Senate, but has evolved over time. The filibuster first developed in the early 19th century, and until recently, remained a relatively rare procedural event. Historically, Senators were required to physically come to the floor in order to exercise their prerogative to debate a bill, and continue talking in order to filibuster a measure.
In the past, a filibuster would typically make the minority's opposition to legislation known among the public, but would not result in blocking legislation. More often, after extended debate and deliberation, the minority would yield to the majority for a vote. Changes to the use of the filibuster over time better enabled it to block legislation. For example the creation of Rule 22 during the Jim Crow era was intended to create a way to bring debate to a close, but effectively began to impose a supermajority requirement to overcome a filibuster. Nonetheless, filibusters remained rare for most of the 20th century.
In recent decades, however, the filibuster has been used to establish a regular supermajority requirement for legislation, with their frequency increasing from 24 filibusters 50 years ago in the 92nd Congress to 328 filibusters in the 116th Congress that ended last year.
Why the Filibuster Needs Reform
In May 2021, over 350 scholars of the filibuster, the Senate, and American history, including a dozen Pulitzer Prize-winning historians, called on the Senate to reform the filibuster.
At a briefing co-hosted by the University of Chicago Center for Effective Government several signatories of the letter talked about the need for filibuster reform. Professor William Howell discussed the broader effects of the current use of the filibuster.
Additional resources about the history of the filibuster and various reform proposals are included below, for those interested in further reading:
- Molly Reynolds and Sarah A. Binder. “Filibuster 101: An explainer of the Senate rule and reform.” Brookings Institution, 2021. [video]
- Mel Barnes, Norman Eisen, Jeffrey A. Mandell, and Norman Ornstein. “Filibuster reform is coming — here's how: Seven ideas for change.” Brookings Institution, 2021.
- Danielle Brian. “A Practical Way Forward on Filibuster Reform.” Project on Government Oversight, 2021.
- Tim Lau. “The Filibuster, Explained.” Brennan Center for Justice, 2021.
- Laura Williamson, Alex Baptiste, and Stephany Rose Spaulding. “End the Filibuster: How a Relic of Jim Crow Could Block Our Progressive Agenda.” Demos, 2021.
- Fix Our Senate. “Filibuster Facts.” Fix Our Senate, 2021.
- Caroline Fredrickson. “The Case Against the Filibuster.” Brennan Center for Justice at NYU School of Law, 2017.
- Mark Strand and Tim Lang. “The Sausage Factory. The U.S. Senate Filibuster: Options for Reform.” Congressional Institute, 2017.
- Christopher M. Davis and Valerie Heitshusen. “Proposals to Change the Operation of Cloture in the Senate.” Congressional Research Service, 2013.
- Congressional Research Service. “Senate Cloture Rule: Limitation of Debate in the Senate of the United States and Legislative History of Paragraph 2 of Rule 22 of the Standing Rules of the United States Senate (Cloture Rule).” Senate Committee on Rules & Administration, 2011.
- Sarah A. Binder. “The History of the Filibuster.” Brookings Institution, 2010.