Sen. Tom Harkin on Filibuster Reform

June 15, 2010


One of the things I love about living in New York City is the access I have to an incredible amount of intellectual content on a daily basis. In that regard, on Monday, July 14, I had the profound pleasure of attending a talk by Sen. Tom Harkin, D-Iowa, who spoke about filibuster reform in the Third Annual Living Constitution Lecture for The Brennan Center for Justice at New York University School of Law . The Brennan Center is a non-partisan public policy and law institute that focuses on the fundamental issues of democracy and justice. Its Living Constitution Project brings together thinkers and policymakers to further understanding of the Constitution and its role in a changing world. The two previous speakers for the series were then-Arizona Gov. and current U.S. Secretary of Homeland Security Janet Napolitano, and Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse, D-RI.

Harkin’s talk was titled “Filibuster Reform: Curbing Abuse to Prevent Minority Tyranny in the Senate.” A short description:

In recent years, use of the filibuster has exploded — creating an effective 60-vote requirement for nearly all legislation and often bringing the chamber to a halt. Now, controversy abounds. Sen. Tom Harkin has led efforts since the early 1990s to change the rules under which filibusters occur. “In the 1950s, an average of one bill was filibustered in each two-year Congress,” Sen. Harkin said. “In the last Congress, 139 bills were filibustered.” He will discuss history, constitutional issues, and his plans for reform.

Fortunately for those who could not attend, video is already available on the Brennan Center’s YouTube page . Harkin speaks for about 40 minutes, then engages in a question-and-answer segment for another 15. No matter your political standing, I highly suggest you take the time to watch, listen, and learn. The filibuster issue might be unrelated to CFI’s mission, but a U.S. Senate frozen by its own rules, and where the minority can rule the majority, isn’t good for any citizen of the United States.