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STATEMENT SUBMITTED TO THE SUBCOMMITTEE ON RULES OF THE SENATE COMMITTEE
ON RULES AND ADMINISTRATION, ON ANTIFILIBUSTER RESOLUTIONS BY LEAGUE OF WOMEN VOTERS, WASHINGTON, D. C.
The League of Women Voters of the United States has long been interested in efficient and democratic procedures in government. Our national program for legislative action is adopted biennially by a delegate convention. Last May an item on strengthening the organization and procedures of the Congress was adopted, including specifically support of efforts to modify the rules of the Senate to prevent filibustering.
There is no question but that the affairs of this Nation with which the Senate must deal have become so complicated in content and great in quantity that the most effective procedures are demanded. If we are to be able to show the nations of the world that a democratic system of government is structurally able to meet the problems of a modern industrial nation, we must take every means at our disposal to eliminate waste motion, to move promptly and effectively toward solutions of our legislative problems. At the same time we must not lose sight of the overwhelming importance of keeping our procedures democratic and preserving the ultimate responsibility of the citizen for public affairs. These objectives are not served when and to the extent that we use artificial means to obstruct the even flow of legislative business. The prime example of such obstruction is the filibuster.
The filibuster is used to prevent majority rule, thus resulting in decisions by a minority of the Members of the Senate. It is seldom used except when the issue is a heated one, but it results in complete frustration of the will of the majority. The concept of abiding by majority decisions is fundamental to our form of government. It is clear that some means must be found to prevent this assumption of rule by a minority while major matters of national legislation await decision.
The function of the Senate in carefully weighing public business, considering all points of view, and coming to a deliberative decision is one which must be preserved. It would be equally disastrous to so arrange the rules of procedure that a willful majority could prevent pertinent debate on a matter of importance. It would probably be unwise to provide for cutting off debate on a pure majority vote without further safeguards for the minority rights which our form of government holds dear. It would seem perfectly possible, however, to work out a formula by which a majority vote could close debate after a certain number of days of unlimited debate had gone on, or by providing that each Senator would be permitted after such a vote to speak for 1 hour and to cede his time to another Senator if he so desires. These may not be the only alternatives. We would expect that the Senate itself would find its own formula by which to protect its fundamental purposes without sacrificing precious time and energy in filibustering.
The public disgust which results when either House of Congress acts foolishly in the eyes of our citizens is a serious enough threat to responsible government to warrant special mention. There is probably a breaking point beyond which the public would not stand for filibustering tactics when vital measures are ready for consideration. We must constantly strive to protect the good name of our political institutions and build a healthy respect for government if we are not to undermine and sabotage these very institutions. Such legislative tactics leave minds ripe for the suggestion that a more efficient method would lie in totalitarianism of one sort or another, a thought which is abhorrent to us all.
Another important factor to consider is that we hold the majority responsible for action or inaction on matters of over-all concern. If the majority can point out that a minority prevented action, all responsibility to the people for legislative action is dissipated. We lose the fundamental popular control upon which a democracy rests.
The League of Women Voters sincerely hopes that the Senate will adopt some measure which will effectively prevent filibustering while at the same time preserving minority rights and the importance and prestige of Senate deliberation.
Senator KNOWLAND. Mr. Chairman, at one previous meeting I think Senator Holland requested certain information about previous
filibusters in the Senate, and I would like to offer for the record some of the material that has been gathered.
Senator Ives. Without objection, that will be made a part of the record at this point. (The data referred to is as follows:)
OUTSTANDING SENATE FILIBUSTERS [From the Congressional Digest, vol. V, January to December 1926, p. 297] 1941—A bill to remove the Senate printers was filibustered against for 10 days. 1841-A bill relating to the Bank of the United States was filibustered for several
weeks and caused Clay to introduce his cloture resolution. 1846—The Oregon bill was filibustered for 2 months. 1863-A bill to suspend the writ of habeas corpus was filibustered. 1876—An Army appropriation bill was filibustered against for 12 days, forcing
the abandonment of a rider which would have suspended existing election
laws. 1880-A measure to reorganize the Senate was filibustered from March 24 to May
16 (by an evenly divided Senate, until two Senators resigned, giving the
Democrats a majority). 1890—The Blair education bill was filibustered . 1890—The "Force bill,” providing for Federal supervision of elections was suc
cessfully filibustered for 29 days. This resulted in the cloture resolution introduced by Senator Aldrich which was also filibustered and the
resolution failed. 1893—An unsuccessful filibuster lasting 42 days was organized against a bill for
the repeal of the Silver Purchase Act. 1901–Senator Carter successfully filibustered a river and harbor bill because
it failed to include certain additional appropriations. 1902—There was a successful filibuster against the tri-State bill proposing to
admit Okiahoma, Arizona, and New Mexico to statehood, because the measure did not include all of Indian Territory according to the original
boundaries. 1903–Senator Tillman, of South Carolina, filibustered against a deficiency appro
priation bill because it failed to include an item paying his State a war
claim. The item was finally replaced on the bill. 1907–Senator Stone filibustered against a ship-subsidy bill. 1908-Senator La Follette led a filibuster lasting 28 days against the Vreeland
Aldrich emergency currency law. The filibuster finally failed. 1914–Senator Owen filibustered a bill proposing to admit New Mexico and
Arizona to statehood. The House had accepted New Mexico, but refused Arizona because of her proposed constitution. Senator Owen filibustered against the admission of New Mexico until Arizona was replaced on the
measure. 1911—The Canadian reciprocity bill passed the House and failed through a fili
buster in the Senate. It passed Congress in an extraordinary session
but Canada refused to accept the proposition. 1913—A filibuster was made against the omnibus public building bill by Senator
Stone of Missouri until certain appropriations for his State were in
cluded. 1914–Senator Burton, of Ohio, filibustered against a river and harbor bill for
12 hours. 1914–Senator Gronna filibustered against acceptance of a conference report on
an Indian appropriation bill. 1914–In this year also the following bills were debated at great length, but
finally passed: Panama Canal tolls bill, 30 days; Federal Trade Commission bill, 30 days; Clayton amendments to the Sherman Act, 21
days; conference report on the Clayton bill, 9 days. 1915—A filibuster was organized against President Wilson's ship-purchase bill
by which German ships in American ports would have been purchased. The filibuster was successful and as a result three important appropriation bills failed.
1917—The armed-ship bill of President Wilson was successfully filibustered, and
caused the defeat of many administration measures. This caused the adoption of the Martin resolution embodying the President's recommendation for a change in the Senate Rules, on limitation of debate.
(See amendment to rule XXII of Senate Rules, p. 298.) 1919—A filibuster was successful against an oil and mineral leasing bill, causing
the failure of several important appropriation bills and necessitating
an extraordinary session of Congress. 1921—The emergency tariff bill was filibustered against in January 1921 which
led Senator Penrose to present a cloture petition. The cloture petition
failed, but the tariff bill finally passed. 1922—The Dyer antilynching bill was successfully filibustered against by a group
of southern Senators. 1923–President Harding's ship-subsidy bill was defeated by a filibuster.
Senator KNOWLAND. I would also like to say, Mr. Chairman, that Senator Saltonstall has gone out to the Pacific coast, but before leaving he communicated with me and said that he would be glad to join in the amendment which I had offered to the rules, and suggested that certain language which he had proposed in his amendment, which was not in my amendment, would be agreeable if it was included. I am perfectly willing to accept the Senator's suggestions.
Senator Ives. All right. That may be put in the record at this point. (The suggested amendment is as follows:)
MEMORANDUM RELATIVE TO RESOLUTIONS ON CLOTU'RE
Senate Resolution 25 is that submitted by Senator Saltonstall. Senate Resolution 30 is that submitted by Senator Knowland. In order to bring them together, I would suggest that Senator Knowland's resolution be amended by parts of Senator Saltonstall's so that his resolution would read as follows:
(The parts which are added are in parentheses) "Resolved, That the second, third, and fourth paragraphs of rule XXII of the Standing Rules of the Senate are amended to read as follows:
“If at anytime (, notwithstanding the provisions of rule III or rule VI or any other rule of the Senate,) a motion to bring to a close the debate upon any pending measure or motion (or other matter pending before the Senate) is signed by 16 Senators, any Senator signing such motion shall upon a request for recognition be recognized by the Chair for the purpose of presenting such motion to the Senate and when such motion is so presented to the Senate, the Presiding Officer shall at once state the motion to the Senate, and one hour after the Senate meets on the following calendar day but one, he shall lay the motion before the Senate and direct that the Secretary call the roll, and, upon the ascertainment that a quorum is present, the Presiding Officer shall, without debate, submit to the Senate by an aye-and-nay vote the question :
** • "Is it the sense of the Senate that the debate shall be brought to a close ?"
" And if that question shall be decided in the affirmative by a majority vote of the entire membership of the Senate, then said measure or motion (or other matter panding before the Senate) shall be the unfinished business to the exclusion of all other business until disposed of.'"
Senator Ives. Is there anything else, Senator Knowland ?
Senator Ives. If not, we will proceed. The first appearance I have on this list is Senator Byrd. Will you proceed, Senator Byrd? STATEMENT OF HON. HARRY FLOOD BYRD, UNITED STATES
SENATOR FROM THE STATE OF VIRGINIA Senator BYRD. Mr. Chairman, I appreciate very much the opportunity of being here.
The secretary of the committee has sent me three resolutions: Resolution No. 30, by Senator Knowland; Resolution No. 25, by Senator Saltonstall; and Resolution No. 32, by Senator Morse. I understand that there are two others, two Democrats, who have introduced resolutions, but I have only been sent the Republican resolutions.
Senator Ives. We thought, of course, you would probably be for the Democratic ones anyway. [Laughter.]
Senator BYRD. Mr. Chairman, I understand that Senator Saltonstall has accepted an amendment to his resolution.
Senator KNOWLAND. No. Technically, I think, Senator, what has happened is that the Senator has agreed to join in with my proposal, providing I would accept certain language which he suggests, which I am willing to accept; and we will combine from now on, to all intents and purposes, the Saltonstall and Knowland proposed amendments.
Senator Ives. Are you putting this in as a new resolution, or amending your resolution?
Senator KNOWLAND. Just amending my resolution.
Senator BYRD. Mr. Chairman, I want to address my remarks at the beginning to changing the imposition of cloture in the Senate from the two-thirds majority of those present and voting, to a majority of those present and voting, as provided in the original Saltonstall bill, and I think Senator Morse has that provision in his proposed bill.
Mr. Chairman, if that change should be made, it will be the most drastic change in the Senate rules since 1806 as relating to debate, and the effect of that change would be to establish in the Senate the principle of moving the “previous question” to end debate.
Now, on March 20, 1806, the Senate Rules were revised, omitting any reference to the previous question.” For the first 17 years the Senate operated under the “previous question” principle; but in 1806—140 years ago—the Senate Rules were amended and there was no provision made for the "previous question." From that time until 1917, there existed in the Senate of the United States a complete freedom of debate on all general bills.
(At this point Senator Wherry assumed the chair.)
Senator BYRD. Numerous efforts during that time were made to impose the “previous question” principle. Henry Clay, Mr. Chairman, in 1841 made the effort, and was defeated. Senator Douglas made the effort in 1868, and many others made it.
Now, on March 7, 1917, in the debate on the question of arming vessels, a filibuster that was then going on, Senator Martin, the majority leader of the Senate, introduced Senate Rule No. 22, and that rule has been in existence without change from that day to this.
I may say, Mr. Chairman, that Senator Martin was a Virginian; he was the majority leader of the Senate at that time, and was a very able man. He served as majority leader and likewise the chairman
of the Appropriations Committee of the Senate, and that double burden became so heavy that it shortenend his life and he died in 1920, and was succeeded by my late lamented colleague, Senator Glass.
Now, I am perfectly willing, Mr. Chairman, to admit that at times the freedom of speech in the United States Senate is abused. It is abused everywhere. All freedoms are abused at one time or another.
I came to the Senate as a businessman, not trained as a lawyer, with no experience as a lawyer, and not trained as a public speaker. When I first came to the Senate I was very impatient at the delays in the Senate procedure. I would come over there to vote on a bill, and I would find that a Senator would get up and discuss an entirely differ
a ent subject, and I was restless under that. I remember that the late lamented Huey Long, when I first came to the Senate, had a filibuster that lasted for 15 hours, about something that I thought of not great importance.
But, Mr. Chairman, I want to say that the longer I have stayed in the United States Senate, the more I am impressed with the fact that at least here in the Senate of the United States there should be a reasonable freedom of debate on these great questions that confront this Nation.
I believe that more bad bills are defeated by the privilege of debate under the restrictions that now exist, than good bills are defeated. I think Senator Cabot Lodge, if I am correct, stated when he came to the Senate, he came there with the idea that debate in the Senate could be restricted as it was in the House, but he reached the conclusion that while it could be restricted in the House, it should not be in the Senate.
Senator WHERRY. I do not want to break up your statement, but do you have any record of that any place?
Senator BYRD. I was told that by Charley Watkins, the Parliamentarian. He must have it, because I have never known him to make a statement that was not correct, and he gave it to me, gave the reference; he told me over the telephone today.
Senator WHERRY. Thank you.
Senator WHERRY. I didn't mean to challenge that statement. I was just asking for information.
Senator BYRD. I stated that I was told that, and that is the source of my information.
Since 1806 the Senate has had no rule limiting debate on general legislation by a majority of those present. If you adopt a rule limiting debate by a majority of those present, it would mean that if a bare quorum was present, that 25 could impose cloture. Senator Ives. May I interpose a question there, Senator?
I Senator BYRD. Surely.
Senator Ives. I do not think that I am in favor of just the majority of a quorum limiting debate, myself. That is 25. You are getting it down to a pretty fine point when you are getting it down to 25, and my conception of it is that a majority of the elected Members are the ones that ought to control the operations of the Senate.