Steve Chapman

Under the established filibuster rule, though, a majority of senators often did not have the power to do what the Constitution says -- namely, to provide "advice and consent" on presidential nominees. A minority of members could block them from even taking a vote.

This custom was not part of the framers' handiwork; it also was not in keeping with the practice of the Senate over most of its history. From 1951 to 1961, there were only two votes to end a filibuster. From 1961 to 1971, there were 26. From 2003 to today, there were 423. What was once a last resort in rare emergencies has become a first resort in routine business.

Republicans and Democrats can debate which party has most abused the option, and which has been more hypocritical in changing its mind about the filibuster once it went from the majority to the minority or the reverse. Neither side has acted with selfless regard for the will of the people or the proper functioning of government.

The change adopted by the Senate has been dubbed the "nuclear option," as though it were unimaginably destructive. But all it destroys is the capacity of the minority party to frustrate the operation of the legislative branch. And it applies only to executive and non-Supreme Court judicial nominations. The old rules still apply to other matters.

Conservatives sometimes act as though democratic processes are something to dread. Uncontrolled, they can be scary. But under our Constitution, they are carefully regulated to prevent rash action.

The framers, however, did not intend to let the minority prevail as a general rule. They did require a super-majority vote to approve treaties, override presidential vetoes and pass constitutional amendments. Had they wanted to require 60 votes to confirm judges, they knew how to do it.

In most things, though, they chose to let the majority rule. It's not a perfect system, but there are worse ones.

Steve Chapman

Steve Chapman is a columnist and editorial writer for the Chicago Tribune.

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