Skip to main content

I'm no racism scholar, so to ensure there's no confusion about how I'm using the term "institutional racism" I am referring to effective racism in results, whether designed as such or not.  This diary is to demonstrate the inherent and inescapable racial bias of the filibuster.  It only really works for white people.  If you are still inclined to defend the notion that the legislative process should have baked-in "minority" protection mechanisms, I won't argue with that here, but you should walk away understanding that the filibuster is a remarkably poor means to such an end given that it can only really be relied upon to protect one kind of "minority" (who aren't even actually a minority - white people).  

First Past the Post

The Senate, like most (all?) other elections in America takes the form of candidates vying to represent some defined geographical space, and requiring only a plurality of the votes in order to win.  Hence, "first" past the post, with no requirement to attain 50% of the vote, and no mechanism for representing the views of the potential 60% (or even higher in extreme cases) of voters who might have voted for other candidates.  America is generally effectively a two party system, so other than a rare independent or celebrity third party candidate, the winner will need something over 48% of the vote to win.

Race Matters in Voting

Proving this and quantifying it is much beyond the scope of my expertise and this diary.  Voters have long exhibited a preference for candidates who are racially like them.  There are exceptions of course, but you don't get many minority politicians in legislative bodies that do not ensure they have minority-majority districts in their electoral maps.  Race isn't the only thing that matters in voting of course, voters cleave along many forms of self-identity, along issues, ideology, economic needs and so forth, but there's no denying race matters.  

The Senate Sucks at Minority-Majority Districts

Simply the electoral boundaries are fixed, America is still (and for some time to come) a majority-white country, and there's just very few states with significant enough minority populations to reliably elect many non-white Senators.  There have been seven hispanic and six black US Senators in American history.  Only three of those black Senators were popularly elected.  Black and hispanic are the two largest racial groups other than white in America.  There have also been seven Asian senators, however five were from Hawaii, and as Hawaii is the only US state that is majority-minority it is the exception that quite literally proves the general rule.

Let's see the three biggest racial groups by state in maps, taken from here.

Black Americans:

black population by state

Hispanic Americans:

hispanic population by state

White Americans:

white (non-hispanic) population by state

The key thing on these maps is to notice the different scales used for the various shadings of blue (sorry, I looked for better maps but couldn't find any).  The scale for white starts out much higher than for the other groups, and goes to over 90% in some states.  You can see a few states with major Hispanic populations in the south-west, a few states with major black populations in the south-east, but whites are a major group everywhere (even in Hawaii they're hardly insubstantial).

You need 41 Senators To Filibuster

So you're a member of a given minority group.  I have suggested racial minorities here, but this works for other kinds of politically salient minorities such as sexual orientation or religion, because similar maps could be drawn showing that heterosexuals and Christians similarly dominate the state level demographic US map.  Now try to get to 41 Senators willing to block some measure odious to your minority group but popular with the majority (or plurality).  It's going to be pretty difficult for every group except whites, straights and Christians.  It's possible that you will get some support by Senators not of your minority group, but assuming they are part of the majority/plurality group pushing the policy you are fighting, they are really swimming upstream electorally to do so.  This doesn't tend to happen.  It's nice when it does, but when designing systems, you don't rely on lucky breaks to make the thing work.  To wit, this is why we see filibusters to block anti-lynching and voting rights laws (filibusters to protect the majority's ability to oppress minorities), but you don't see filibusters blocking the Defense of Marriage Act, defunding ACORN or the authorization for military force in Iraq.  Minorities needed protection from abusive bi-partisan majorities those days, and the filibuster was absolutely no help to them.

This is the institutional racism of the filibuster.  There is no fix of the filibuster rules which can really fix this.  Even if you posited lowering the filibuster threshold to 2 (the current number of Hispanic Senators), you still don't have a minority protection scheme that would currently protect black Americans (who have zero Senators) or gay Americans (who have 1 Senator).  Many filibuster reform schemes are in fact suggesting the opposite, by lowering the bar for cloture which only puts the filibuster even further out of reach of any other minority group.  If you support this in any recognizable form, you are essentially channeling Henry Ford's dictum about black Model-Ts, "America can have any laws it wants, so long as these laws are ok with white people."  The Senate without a filibuster will still be a grossly undemocratic and embarrassingly unrepresentative chamber (yay, 20% women, new all time record!) but that's a much tougher nut to crack given the rigidity of the US constitution in this regard.  Still, no reason to exacerbate it by maintaining a special protection rule in an unrepresentative chamber only useful to one group.

The decline in proportion of white people in the US electorate will ameliorate this somewhat, but not very much.  As I noted above, under first-past-the-post, you only need a plurality to win, and even as white Americans lose their absolute majority in decades to come, they will remain the largest racial group far past that point.  Actually, there is a risk that America becoming a majority-minority nation will exacerbate the use of the filibuster by the white racial plurality - to the extent the non-white groups cleave together (under the Democratic party coalition) and see their interests as aligned (to a significant degree currently), the party of white people (Republicans) will need to block a lot of legislation pushed by the coalition of Everyone Else.  

The Good News

America does have a built in systemic mechanism for defending vital minority interests against abuse by the majority, it's called the Bill of Rights.  It's not perfect, and enforcement by the Courts is of course irregular, but the wins tend to be durable, and it doesn't require a given minority group to jump through unattainable electoral hoops in order to have any hope of exercising its protection.  The afflicted minorities don't even need to have any elected representation of their group.  They just take their grievance to the courts.

This is how most other countries considered free societies have also found best to provide minority protections.  None have devised anything like the filibuster (in fact none I can think of even has an upper chamber that is equal to, never mind more powerful than their lower house like the US does).  This is why the filibuster should be abolished and not reformed.  It's fundamentally unjust at an institutional design level.  

Your Email has been sent.
You must add at least one tag to this diary before publishing it.

Add keywords that describe this diary. Separate multiple keywords with commas.
Tagging tips - Search For Tags - Browse For Tags


More Tagging tips:

A tag is a way to search for this diary. If someone is searching for "Barack Obama," is this a diary they'd be trying to find?

Use a person's full name, without any title. Senator Obama may become President Obama, and Michelle Obama might run for office.

If your diary covers an election or elected official, use election tags, which are generally the state abbreviation followed by the office. CA-01 is the first district House seat. CA-Sen covers both senate races. NY-GOV covers the New York governor's race.

Tags do not compound: that is, "education reform" is a completely different tag from "education". A tag like "reform" alone is probably not meaningful.

Consider if one or more of these tags fits your diary: Civil Rights, Community, Congress, Culture, Economy, Education, Elections, Energy, Environment, Health Care, International, Labor, Law, Media, Meta, National Security, Science, Transportation, or White House. If your diary is specific to a state, consider adding the state (California, Texas, etc). Keep in mind, though, that there are many wonderful and important diaries that don't fit in any of these tags. Don't worry if yours doesn't.

You can add a private note to this diary when hotlisting it:
Are you sure you want to remove this diary from your hotlist?
Are you sure you want to remove your recommendation? You can only recommend a diary once, so you will not be able to re-recommend it afterwards.
Rescue this diary, and add a note:
Are you sure you want to remove this diary from Rescue?
Choose where to republish this diary. The diary will be added to the queue for that group. Publish it from the queue to make it appear.

You must be a member of a group to use this feature.

Add a quick update to your diary without changing the diary itself:
Are you sure you want to remove this diary?
(The diary will be removed from the site and returned to your drafts for further editing.)
(The diary will be removed.)
Are you sure you want to save these changes to the published diary?

Comment Preferences

  •  Majority-minority districts are bad for Democrats (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:

    And one factor in Republicans controlling the House.

    •  maybe (0+ / 0-)

      But they do ensure minority communities have actual representation in Congress.  The GOP plays games by taking 60% minority districts and making them 90% minority districts, concentrating their voting power far beyond what is needed for viability.

      A better solution would be a different electoral system, but that's neither here nor there with respect to the filibuster, which minority-majority districts or no, will only serve the very largest voting groups able to muster winning candidates in 20+ states.

      •  The cost has become too great (1+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:

        As a means of getting Blacks into Congress against virulent racism, majority-minority districts were of vital importance when first implemented. Now, however, Republicans are happy to create majority-minority districts that ghettoize minority votes. Crowd all of the minorities into those districts, wasting as many Democratic votes as possible, and spread out the Republican majority over as many districts as seems safe.

        Texas has the greatest impact, because it has the most districts. We can look forward to demographics overtaking gerrymandering within a few years, but we need to do more.

        What we need is a national, Federally mandated, non-partisan system for creating compact, contiguous districts that maximizes the number of contested seats, something like the systems in every other major democracy. The Constitution gives Congress full power to regulate Federal elections, but that power has rarely been used.

        Also, we need to get rid of the seniority system in Congress that rewards the most partisan members in the safest seats.

        America—We built that!

        by Mokurai on Sat Nov 17, 2012 at 10:38:49 AM PST

        [ Parent ]

        •  yes (0+ / 0-)

          But as the senate shows, the absence of majority-minority districts usually means no minority members.  

          Anyway, my point here is not to take a position on the ideal nature of district boundaries (a proportional representation system would be a better fix for ensuring adequate racial representativeness) but that the nature of the US senate already lends itself to a wholly unrepresentative body that leaves the ability to filibuster in the hands of only one group.

  •  is your basic pemise kinda mixed up or goofy? (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:

    Fibusters are about the workings of the Senate not the workings of American society. How mixed up can one be? The filibuster has absolutely nothing to do with racial minorities. The minorities it protects are Senate minorities generally along party lines. If the GOP is in the minority the filibuster is there to protect them NOT racial, sexual or any other social minorities.

    One has nothing to do with the other. This whole diary could be viewed as a snark but I have a feeling you're serious in thinking that filibusters are some sort of built in protection for racial and/or other minorities in America.

    Please tell me you're kidding.

    America could have chosen to be the worlds doctor, or grocer. We choose instead to be her policeman. pity

    by cacamp on Sat Nov 17, 2012 at 11:04:59 AM PST

    •  Completely serious (1+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      The minorities it protects are Senate minorities generally along party lines.
      These party lines fall from the sky randomly I suppose?  No, they are socially constructed, with race a major factor in their construction.  Parties aren't arbitrary, they're based on existing social cleavages.  

      Whether the filibuster was designed to be a thing for white people is unimportant, that's how it practically functions, much like right wingers designing laws to required Photo ID to vote - we can't read their minds to know they have racist intent, but these laws have racist effect.

      •  wow, you're amazingly silly and/or oblivious to (0+ / 0-)

        common reasoning. The filibuster is a senate rule made to protect the PARTY out of power. It has zero to do with race, it doesn't protect anything except the political party in the minority. How can you be so oblivious to reality?

        The senate is all white but that has zero bearing on the filibuster or other rules. Were it all black the same rule would be there to protect the PARTY out of power. It is not a reflection of race, it is a construct of  the senate which has zero to do with outside factors.

        All the arguments you're making are not at all germane to what the filibuster is about. It's like saying the filibuster doesn't protect rocks on Mars because those rocks don't have enough senators.

        Look I'm only trying to explain this to you to save you embaresment. Your premise is wrong. You are completely barking up the wrong tree. Logic seems to escape you on this point. Sorry but that's about all I can do for you. bye

        America could have chosen to be the worlds doctor, or grocer. We choose instead to be her policeman. pity

        by cacamp on Sat Nov 17, 2012 at 03:48:33 PM PST

        [ Parent ]

        •  So in your mind (1+ / 0-)
          Recommended by:

          the rules by which representative bodies operate have no impact on the people they represent?  That is, the rules of representative bodies don't have an impact on representation?

          And you think you're saving the author from embarrassment?

          Is this snark?

          Politics is the art of the possible, but that means you have to think about changing what is possible, not that you have to accept it in perpetuity. Notes on a Theory

          by David Kaib on Sat Nov 17, 2012 at 07:26:12 PM PST

          [ Parent ]

          •  yep, the diary and everything here is a snark n/t (0+ / 0-)

            America could have chosen to be the worlds doctor, or grocer. We choose instead to be her policeman. pity

            by cacamp on Sat Nov 17, 2012 at 08:50:43 PM PST

            [ Parent ]

Subscribe or Donate to support Daily Kos.

Click here for the mobile view of the site