What’s Wrong With Majority Rule?

Bernstein wants to save what remains of the filibuster:

Regardless of issues and partisanship, there are a number of reasons many Senate insiders, observers and scholars tend to support a chamber that retains the influence of individual senators, but rather than go through all of those, I’ll use a shorthand argument: Have you actually looked at the House of Representatives lately? Do we really need a second body organized that way?

Scott Lemieux counters:

The problems with this argument are that 1)the Senate looking more functional is a historical anomaly, and 2)House dysfunction is not caused by its majoritarian structure. Indeed, if Tea Party House Republicans had an effective veto like they would in the Senate it’s not clear that the planet Earth would exist anymore. Certainly, there would be not only no debt limit extension but no ACA, no repeal of DADT, and no stimulus, among many other things.

Binder thinks the odds of future reforms have spiked:

Whereas the Senate’s past institutional path dependence has repeatedly put major reform out of reach, the Senate’s post-nuclear path dependence makes future reform far more easy for a cohesive and frustrated majority.  I doubt the Senate will ever “become the House,” not least because key constitutional differences between the chambers (staggered elections, state representation, six-year terms and so on) cannot be waived by majority vote.  But my hunch is that Democrats’ nuclear precedent this week reshaped the path of future reform.   To be sure, majorities must be willing to pay the costs of such reform, but those costs fell sharply and significantly this past week in the Senate.

Masket agrees with Binder that the Senate won’t become another House:

[E]ven a Senate run under uniform principles of majority rule would behave very differently and serve very different constituencies than the House would. Legislation would still receive a thorough airing prior to becoming law, and there would still be a bias against action in the federal government. The main difference would be that the minority party would be largely dealt out of the game.

Eric Posner worries about killing the filibuster:

When progressives stop cheering, they may remember that they are historical opponents of majority rule. It was “tyranny of the majority” that produced racist laws in the South or, if you want, the federal Defense of Marriage Act. Conservatives also traditionally objected to majority rule. For them the problem was the tyranny of the property-less majority that resulted in laws that repudiated debts, violated contracts, and expropriated property before the ratification of the Constitution put a stop to all of this. Along with the two-chamber structure, fear of unconstrained majorities on both sides of the political aisle explains many more features of the American political system—the presidential veto, federalism, the rise of judicial review, and, yes, the voting rules in the Senate.

He also urges readers to “remember Jim Crow in the South, and the many decades disenfranchised African-Americans spent as electoral losers.” Scott Lemieux pushes back:

[T]he Jim Crow argument misapprehends the general democratic presumption of majority rule. When we say “majority rule,” we mean that the majority is generally entitled to make law if it wins a fairelection and follows agreed-upon procedures. Jim Crow and its mass disenfranchisement, to put it mildly, are not “majority rule” in any democratic sense. And it’s worse than that, the filibuster of course was a crucial tool used by segregationists to protect their anti-democratic systems from national majorities.

Drum supports majority rule:

Majority rule is fine. It works for presidential elections, it works for the House, it works for the Supreme Court, and it works in every other country in the world. “Senate tradition” is just a euphemism for “weird historical accident,” and I’d sweep the whole rulebook clean if I could. I’m keenly aware that this means the other party can do stuff if it wins elections, and that’s OK. That’s what elections are for.

Bernstein goes another round:

The thing is that there are multiple majorities on multiple issues at any one time in any legislative chamber. What parties do is structure things so that certain majorities are allowed to express themselves — and others are suppressed (meaning that in those cases, the minority wins). That’s fine; in fact, it’s better than fine, since legislatures probably couldn’t function very well without that kind of structure. But there’s no reason to assume that the party majority is the only majority that matters, or that it’s always inherently better (and more democratic) to allow the party to determine which majorities count.

And that’s without getting into the more complex question of whether majorities should always win in a democracy. I’m strongly convinced they shouldn’t (a classic example is when an indifferent majority is opposed by an intense minority).

Meanwhile, Adam Ramey calculates that killing the filibuster wouldn’t change much.