Skip to main content

Sign up for our newsletter.

Quality journalism. Progressive values. Direct to your inbox.

U.S. Senator Tina Smith (D-MN.) (Photo by Stephen Maturen/Getty Images)

U.S. Senator Tina Smith (D-MN.) (Photo by Stephen Maturen/Getty Images)

I've Made Up My Mind: The US Senate Must Abolish the Filibuster

The filibuster has long been the enemy of progress. In fact, it’s been a highly effective tool to thwart the will of the people.

Tina Smith

The following was posted on U.S. Senator Tina Smith's (D-MN.) Facebook page on Thursday, March 4, 2021:

The Senate needs to abolish the filibuster. Right now, the Senate has 50 Republican senators. They represent less than 44% of America. And yet they still have the power to stop us from passing laws that a majority of America wants.

I’ve spent a lot of time thinking about this, and to be honest I started out believing we should keep the filibuster. Without it, I reasoned, what would stop a conservative president and Congress from doing terrible damage to women’s health care, voting rights and civil rights. But the more I thought about it, the more I realized that the filibuster has long been the enemy of progress. In fact, it’s been a highly effective tool to thwart the will of the people.
What the filibuster does is allow a minority of Senators to just say no to any idea they don’t like. 

The US Senate has a lot of rules that most people don’t understand—including most Senators. Most of these rules don’t spring from the Constitution or the minds of the founders; they have grown out of a centuries long battle between about who gets to decide.

So who DOES decide? You may think the answer is obvious: In our Republic, the people decide. In state legislatures, city halls, county boards and in the U.S. House of Representatives, a majority of those elected by the people decide. But in the U.S. Senate, the rules are uniquely different. In reality, every day in the U.S. Senate a minority can decide. And they do it by threatening to talk to death any idea, policy or proposal that they don’t like. That’s what the filibuster is. And that’s why it has to go.

The filibuster didn’t come from the Constitution, or from our founders. It grew up as tool developed by a minority in the senate—mostly white, racist Southern senators from the Democratic party—to protect their interest in owning and exploiting Black bodies. After the Civil War, and passage of the 13th, 14th and 15th amendments, and after a brief period of hopefulness for the future of Black Americans, the filibuster became an even more powerful tool, used to deny voting rights and the opportunity for Black people to own a home or land, and to build wealth and opportunity for their own families.

If you have fond memories of watching the movie Mr. Smith Goes to Washington, and the heroic Mr. Smith using the power of debate to turn the Senate toward more justice, I’m sorry to tell you that does not happen in the Senate. In fact, the modern filibuster usually doesn’t include any debate at all. What happens is that a senator merely threatens to filibuster, then they go home to dinner. There’s no debate and not even any talking. And definitely not any legislating.

Some will argue that the filibuster is a crucial stopgap, designed to protect the rights of the minority against an overweening majority that would trample those rights. They say that the filibuster encourages compromise and it makes the Senate the famous "cooling saucer" that stops the federal government from careening from one extreme to the other. I’ve not seen that. What the filibuster does is allow a minority of Senators to just say no to any idea they don’t like. They don’t have to negotiate because they can stop anything. McConnell is the master of obstruction, but the big problem is that this is fundamentally undemocratic.


Our work is licensed under Creative Commons (CC BY-NC-ND 3.0). Feel free to republish and share widely.

Tina Smith

Tina Smith is a United States Senator from Minnesota, elected in 2018.

We've had enough. The 1% own and operate the corporate media. They are doing everything they can to defend the status quo, squash dissent and protect the wealthy and the powerful. The Common Dreams media model is different. We cover the news that matters to the 99%. Our mission? To inform. To inspire. To ignite change for the common good. How? Nonprofit. Independent. Reader-supported. Free to read. Free to republish. Free to share. With no advertising. No paywalls. No selling of your data. Thousands of small donations fund our newsroom and allow us to continue publishing. Can you chip in? We can't do it without you. Thank you.

Scientists Revive ‘Zombie’ Virus After 50,000 Years Trapped in Siberian Permafrost

Researchers documented 13 never-before-seen viruses that have been lying dormant, frozen in thick ice, over tens of thousands of years.

Common Dreams staff ·


'Cleaner Air Is Coming' as London Expands Vehicle Pollution Fee to Entire Metro Area

"Around 4,000 Londoners die prematurely each year because of long-term exposure to air pollution, with the greatest number of deaths in outer London boroughs," noted Mayor Sadiq Khan in announcing the expansion.

Brett Wilkins ·


'Amazing News': Historic Shark Protections Approved at Global Wildlife Convention

Up to 90% of sharks targeted by the lucrative fin trade will now be protected, said one advocate.

Julia Conley ·


'The Nightmare Materializes': Far-Right Extremist Itamar Ben-Gvir to Be Israel's National Security Minister

The Foreign Affairs Ministry of the Palestinian Authority said Ben-Gvir's elevation to national security minister could have a "catastrophic impact on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict."

Jake Johnson ·


Raging Wars, Soaring Hunger Put Women and Girls in Crosshairs, Warns UN

"A toxic mix of crises—conflicts, climate, skyrocketing costs, and the ripple effects of the Ukraine war—are inflicting a devastating toll on the forcibly displaced. This is being felt across the world, but women and girls are particularly suffering."

Brett Wilkins ·

Common Dreams Logo