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.

  • Targeted Exceptions

    Pass legislation creating targeted exceptions to the filibuster via issue-specific limitations on debate for future pieces of legislation.

    Presented by Molly Reynolds
  • 41 Votes to Continue Debate

    Require that 41 senators vote to continue to debate, rather than requiring 60 senators to vote to end debate.

    Presented by Norman J. Ornstein
  • Popular-Majoritarian Cloture Rule

    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
  • Democracy Reconciliation

    Exempt legislation related to voting rights and other core democracy issues from the filibuster.

    Presented by Mel Barnes and Norman Eisen
  • A Sliding Scale for Cloture

    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
  • Reform the Motion to Suspend the Rules

    Revitalize the Senate's motion to suspend the rules, thereby making it easier to set the terms of floor debate and, if necessary, to pass legislation by simple majority vote.

    Presented by Gregory Koger

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.

Norm Ornstein describes the history and evolution of the filibuster and explains some potential reforms to return the filibuster to fulfilling its original purpose as a part of Project on Government Oversight briefing.

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.

“Leaders on all sides agree that the Senate does not engage in the robust deliberation, debate, and compromise it once did. And it is now the world's only legislative body with an effective supermajority requirement for common legislation.

“[The modern filibuster has] impaired legislative policymaking, aggrandized executive power, worsened partisan polarization, and decreased policymaking continuity. While some of these questions are unsettled and debated in good faith, we share a common concern that today's filibuster is, on balance, weakening Congress.”

“[We] do not represent a consensus on exactly how filibuster reform would be completed, but we do all agree that some type of reform is essential. At stake is not only a functional Congress, but public faith in our system of government.”
Open Letter on the History, Impact, and Future of 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.

Professor William Howell discusses the broader effects of the current use of the filibuster.

Further resources

Additional resources about the history of the filibuster and various reform proposals are included below, for those interested in further reading: