WASHINGTON (AP) — A judge on Friday dismissed a lawsuit challenging the constitutionality of Senate rules that establish a 60-vote threshold for defeating filibusters.
U.S. District Judge Emmet G. Sullivan in Washington ruled that the plaintiffs lack the legal right to sue, and that if the court took up the case, it would offend the separation of powers among the different branches of government.
The suit was brought by Common Cause, a citizen lobby group; Democratic Reps. John Lewis and Hank Johnson of Georgia, Michael Michaud of Maine, and Keith Ellison of Minnesota; and Mexican-born Erika Andiola, Celso Mireles and Caesar Vargas. The Mexican-born plaintiffs, who live in the United States, contend that a GOP-led filibuster in 2010 prevented the Senate from voting on a bill, known as the DREAM Act, which would have given them a legal path to citizenship. They say the now risk being deported because of the filibuster of that legislation.
"Plaintiffs identify no authority for the proposition that an individual has a 'procedural right' to any particular form of congressional consideration or debate on a bill," Sullivan wrote. He added that "plaintiffs' assertion that the bills are likely to be reintroduced does not demonstrate that the bills will ever be enacted by the House and the Senate and signed by the president."
Sullivan also expressed reservations about wading into a political dispute.
"The court is firmly convinced that to intrude into this area would offend the separation of powers on which the Constitution rests," wrote Sullivan, an appointee of President Bill Clinton. "Nowhere does the Constitution contain express requirements regarding the proper length of, or method for, the Senate to debate proposed legislation."
He said that Article I of the Constitution reserves to each chamber of Congress the power to determine the rules of its proceedings.
"Absent a rule's violation of an express constraint in the Constitution or an individual's fundamental rights, the internal proceedings of the legislative branch are beyond the jurisdiction of this Court," Sullivan wrote.
Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., is considering changing Senate rules to narrow the use of filibusters. Reid has complained that Republicans are using the maneuver to block Democrats from advancing President Barack Obama's agenda.
Reid wants the ability to bring a bill before the Senate with the approval of a simple majority of its 100 members. Forty-one opponents could still resort to a filibuster to prevent the Senate from voting on the bill itself, but only by talking continuously about it on the Senate floor.
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