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Over 350 Scholars, Including 12 Pulitzer Prize Winners, Call on Senate to Reform the Filibuster

“We believe that [filibuster] reform can strengthen the core functions of the Senate as envisioned both by the Framers of our Constitution and by generations of Americans—as well as sustain Americans’ faith in democracy.”

Washington, D.C. Today over 350 legal scholars, political scientists, and historians — including a dozen Pulitzer Prize winners — sent a letter to U.S. senators calling for filibuster reform. Read the letter here.

The letter warns that Congress’s inability to take action on broadly popular, bipartisan policies is eroding Americans’ faith in democracy. “Over the last 30 years, nearly 80 percent of bills blocked by the filibuster were bipartisan,” the signatories note. “A government unable to produce results that significant majorities of the public elect their representatives to deliver is no longer a representative government.”

The signatories also argue that the filibuster is at odds with the Framers’ vision for the Senate. “In the wake of the Articles of Confederation, which prescribed a supermajority for a variety of federal actions, delegates debating and drafting our Constitution were acutely attuned to the problem of gridlock,” they explain. The delegates therefore “explicitly rejected a supermajority requirement for common legislation.” As Alexander Hamilton wrote, such a requirement would “destroy the energy of the government” by keeping it in “a state of inaction.”

Despite the Framers’ decision, “the Senate is now the world’s only legislative body with a supermajority requirement for common legislation,” said Steven Levitsky, co-author of How Democracies Die and Professor of Government at Harvard University. “This letter reflects a broad consensus among scholars that such a requirement is untenable, and that it could undermine our democratic system.”

The signatories include renowned scholars of the filibuster, the Senate, and American history, including Ron Chernow, Sarah Binder, Joseph Ellis, Jack Rakove, Jill Lepore, Norman Ornstein, Michael Gerhardt, Thomas E. Mann, and Steven S. Smith; and preeminent scholars of democracy and democratic erosion, including Francis Fukuyama, Daniel Ziblatt, Steven Levitsky, Sheri Berman, Robert Putnam, Daron Acemoglu, and Adam Przeworski. 

You will find the full letter, including a complete list of signatories, here.

Coverage of this letter, which was organized by Protect Democracy, originally appeared in Talking Points Memo. 

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Protect Democracy is a nonpartisan nonprofit organization dedicated to preventing American democracy from declining into a more authoritarian form of government.