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Federal appeals court dismisses challenge to Senate filibuster rule

[JURIST] The US Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit [official website] ruled [opinion, PDF] Tuesday that the district court properly dismissed a lawsuit brought by members of the US House of Representatives [official website] and the organization Common Cause [advocacy website] challenging the "filibuster" rules of the US Senate [official website]. The plaintiffs in the litigation before the DC Circuit were supporters of the DREAM Act [text] and the DISCLOSE Act [text]. Both bills passed the House only to be defeated in the Senate despite receiving support from a majority of senators. The plaintiffs filed suit arguing that Senate Rule XXII [text], which requires 60 votes to invoke cloture, violates the Constitutional principle of majority rule. The district court dismissed [JURIST report] the lawsuit on the grounds that the plaintiffs lacked standing. Though the DC Circuit affirmed the dismissal, it did so on the grounds that the lawsuit named the wrong party as a defendant. The lawsuit named Vice President Joe Biden, in his capacity as President of the Senate, the Secretary of the Senate, the Parliamentarian of the Senate, and the Sergeant-at-Arms of the Senate [official profiles], none of whom are elected senators or have the ability to vote on Senate rules. According to the DC Circuit, none of the named defendants did anything to cause the alleged injury and the Senate itself should have been named.

The filibuster, which allows Senators to effectively defeat legislation that has majority support, has been a long-standing tradition in the Senate but has received significant criticism in recent years. Under rule XXII, 60 votes are need to invoke cloture, or end debate. In May of 2012, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid [official website] called for reforms [Huffington Post report] to the rule, referencing bills which received majority support only to be defeated by filibuster. In November, Senate Democrats utilized a rare parliamentary move [WP report] to change the Senate filibuster rules for federal judicial nominees and executive appointments, the first such change in decades.

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