Why It’s Time to Reform the Filibuster, According to Two Scholars

The filibuster demands 60 Senate votes to pass legislation. Now there’s a growing movement to reform or eliminate it.

The filibuster has become one of the most consequential political tools for senators in recent history. Once something that was infrequently leveraged, the filibuster is now often used by both Democrats and Republicans to block important legislation from passing — and they can invoke it without much effort at all. 

“The 60-vote threshold allows senators who, in theory, could represent about 12% of Americans to stop crucial legislation from passing.” –Mel Barnes, staff counsel at Law Forward

Today, the number of filibuster threats has skyrocketed in the last couple of decades from the tens into the hundreds. A new report discusses the possibilities for reforming it. 

Listen: What you need to know about the filibuster and its controversies.


Mel Barnes is a staff counsel at Law Forward, a nonprofit law firm focused on advancing and protecting democracy in Wisconsin, and the co-author of a new report on the filibuster. She says the filibuster, which does not appear in the constitution, is being abused, leading to a level of obstruction that is untenable. 

“What the filibuster is used to prop up currently is to give a minority a veto over what the majority wants to pass as policy in this country,” she says. 

Barnes says a lower threshold of a simple majority vote is needed to move our country beyond gridlock, ultimately making our politics more representative. “The 60-vote threshold allows senators who, in theory, could represent about 12% of Americans to stop crucial legislation from passing,” says Barnes.

Norm Eisen is a senior fellow in governance studies at the Brookings Institution and former U.S. ambassador to the Czech Republic. He says the filibuster’s core idea is that the minority in the Senate has an opportunity to have their voice heard. Still, Eisen believes the rule has become such an obstruction that it must be reformed for the sanctity of democracy. “I don’t think sacrificing our democracy is worth it for preserving this tool,” he says. Eisen wants to reform the filibuster because there aren’t enough votes supporting its elimination entirely. 

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