March 11, 2021
Thank you for taking the time to write to me about reforming the filibuster. I rely on the input of engaged New Jerseyans like you when making decisions and appreciate you sharing your thoughts.
The filibuster is not part of the Constitution, nor was the option to block or delay legislation included in the original rules of the Senate, but its use has a long history. In 1806, the Senate amended a rule that allowed it to pass bills by a simple majority, opening the possibility for a Senator to extend debate by talking on the floor of the Senate for an indefinite period of time. In 1917, the rules were changed again to allow a “cloture” vote—where a two-thirds majority of Senators could end a filibuster and let a simple majority vote on legislation. This threshold was incredibly difficult to meet and permitted a 60-day filibuster against passage of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. Soon after, the Senate reduced the number of votes necessary to invoke cloture from two thirds to three fifths, or 60 of the current 100 Senators. Today, filibusters do not typically feature lengthy speeches on the Senate floor, they simply occur when a bill cannot garner 60 votes and cloture is not invoked.
While not part of the Constitution, the filibuster has become an institutionalized tool commonly used by the Senators to protect the rights of the minority. There are important arguments both for and against filibuster reform.
It is clear today that Congress, and in particular the Senate, is broken. Our country and our world face enormous problems that require urgent action. Climate change, a criminal justice system plagued by systemic racism, and massive income inequality are just a few of the issues that our government should be working to fix. Yet in the face of these challenges, Congress’ divisions grow deeper and our productivity continues to plummet. This inaction on the crucial issues of our time is due, in part, to a rise in the use of the filibuster, which now forces any semi-controversial legislation to receive at least 60 votes in order to pass.
While eliminating the filibuster would allow the Senate to pass more legislation by a simple majority, it has also been an important safeguard against harmful legislation throughout the last few years. When my conservative colleagues controlled both houses of Congress and the presidency, the filibuster was the last line of defense against their attempts to strip collective bargaining rights, roll back reproductive rights, and repeal the Affordable Care Act. The higher threshold to pass legislation encourages consensus-building by forcing us to prioritize opinions from Senators of all 50 states.
There have been several proposals to reform the filibuster. These include removing the ability of a Senator to extend debate and “filibuster” without actually speaking on the Senate floor to removing the 60-vote requirement altogether. I am open to any reforms that improve our government’s ability to solve problems and help create equal opportunity and justice for the American people. I look forward to engaging in more discussions with my colleagues both within and outside the Senate on how best to accomplish these goals.
Again, thank you for writing to me. I am honored to represent you in the United States Senate, and I value what I hear from New Jerseyans about the issues facing our state and nation. Please continue to keep in touch with your thoughts and concerns. For more information on my work in New Jersey and in Washington, please visit my website at booker.senate.gov.