In a lawsuit filed in May, the government watchdog group Common Cause asked the U.S. Supreme Court to weigh in on Senate Rule XXII, which requires 60 votes on a motion to proceed with or close debate on just about any topic.
That rule, known as cloture, is what is required to overcome a "filibuster" — when a senator or group of senators tries to talk a bill to death.
The reality is that there aren't any real filibusters in the U.S. Senate now, not the way there used to be, not the way there still are here in the Missouri Senate.
In the U.S. Senate, the minority party, in effect, has taken control by refusing to allow most issues to even come to the floor, let alone be debated. In Missouri, a senator has to actually rise from his chair and hold the floor for hours to stage a filibuster. The difference is key to understanding what should happen with the Common Cause lawsuit.
It is unlikely that the Supreme Court is going to wade into a battle over Senate rules, even though, as the lawsuit points out, there is precedent for it. But the lawsuit might ratchet up pressure being applied by both Republican and Democratic senators who are pushing Senate leadership to bring back a filibuster that at least forces senators to make their case.
This always has been the case in Missouri, and it's one reason why the filibuster isn't a partisan tool, but one that respects the individual power of each senator, regardless of party. When each senator knows he has the power to filibuster a bill, he is less likely to use partisan powers to take it away from his colleagues.
In fact, two of the most famous filibusters in recent Missouri history have seen Republicans filibustering bills or appointments pushed by their own party.
In January 2007, Sen. Matt Bartle of Lee's Summit stood and talked for 17 hours in an attempt to block the appointment of Kansas City businessman Warren Erdman to the University of Missouri Board of Curators.
Three years and a few months later, Sen. Chuck Purgason of Caulfield, with the help of Mr. Bartle and others, shattered the record by three hours when trying to block state tax credits for the Ford Motor Co.
In the U.S. Senate these days, the minority leader tells the majority leader that he doesn't have 60 votes. It is used to stop debate from even happening, not to extend debate. As the Common Cause lawsuit points out in intricate detail, this diminishes majority rule to a point far beyond what the Founding Fathers intended.
The Senate should adopt a proposal similar to one proposed last year by Sen. Tom Udall, D-N.M., to disallow the filibuster on motions that bring issues to the floor, and to require senators to actually be on the floor, speaking, during a filibuster.
Right now senators don't want to miss important fundraising time, or weekends in their district. This simple change would increase the pressure to compromise.
Last month, Sen. Dick Durbin, D-Ill., decried a filibuster over extending low interest rates for student loans by saying that his colleagues "ought to park their posterier in one of these chairs and be prepared to take on all comers."
Amen to that.