Adam Jentleson Properly Explains the Filibuster

Former Deputy Chief of Staff to former Senate majority leader, Senator Harry Reid (D) Adam Jentleson, author of “KILL SWITCH – THE RISE OF THE MODERN SENATE”

Jentleson: “The filibuster has a very sordid history, it came into existence primarily to support White Supremacy. The movie “Mr. Smith Goes to Washington,” starring Jimmy Stewart, was made in 1939. During that Jim Crow era, the filibuster and its supermajority threshhold was used exclusively to block civil rights legislation. The only bills killed during that period were civil rights bills. Civil rights bills were actually ready to pass before the 1960s, it’s just that the filibuster was used to block them. Gallup polls from the 1930s showed that 72% of Americans supported an anti-poll tax law, eliminating poll taxes – but were blocked by the filibuster. Fast-forward to today and the filibuster continues to support the forces of the status quo and entrenched power over progressive change. Its use still disproportionately advantages conservatives and entrenched powerful interests over vulnerable populations and progressive change.”

“As soon as the filibuster stood in Mitch McConnell’s way, when it came to Supreme Court nominees, he got rid of it with a flick of the wrist.
It would be folly for Democrats to decline to pass critically important measures that are being blocked by the filibuster, that will continue to be blocked by the filibuster; like Democracy Forum, like the For the People Act, in order to preserve this tool hoping that it would be useful to them, if and when Republicans are back in power; because you would incur a massive upfront costs by not passing these things that are essential to rebalancing and restoring our democracy, and the Republicans would just get rid of it as soon as it was to their advantage to get rid of it.”

“The filibuster is shrouded in myth: it is NOT a foundational feature of the Senate. That movie “Mr. Smith Goes to Washington” did more to enshrine the filibuster as part of the Senate than is really merited. The Founders did not want the filibuster to exist. They were extremely clear that the Senate should be a MAJORITY RULE BODY. The Senate WAS a majority rule body for more than 200 years of its existence. Everything that we think about the filibuster today are largely myths that have come into existence to serve narrow political interests. Democrats should be get rid of this mythical tool that is blocking progress that is essential to restoring our democracy – because it is the right thing for our democracy and it’s also the right thing for the health of the Senate – the Senate could function again; things could actually pass; Senators could go back to legislating – imagine that! It would be a good thing to get rid of it.”

Martin Luther King Jr. in 1963 Talking About the Filibuster



“The tragedy is that we have a Congress, with a Senate that has a minority of misguided Senators who will use the filibuster to keep the majority of people from even voting – they won’t let the majority Senators vote and suddenly they wouldn’t want the majority of the people to vote, because they know they do not represent the majority of the American people; in fact they represent in their own state a very small minority.”

– Martin Luther King Jr.

Adam Jentleson: “Dr. King put his finger on it. At the time that he was speaking, the filibuster was being used to allow a predominately white – an openly white supremacist minority to block civil rights bills. At that time civil rights bills were the only thing being blocked by the filibuster. Fastforward to today and it still allows an overwhelmingly white minority of conservatives to block and exercise a veto over everything that a diverse majority of this country wants to see enacted. That’s not just bad for Democrats, that is an unhealthy dynamic for our democracy. It causes the agenda of the government to get far out of step with the will of the governed. That’s not something that is sustainable long term in our democracy. This isn’t just about what’s good for Democrats, it’s about what’s good for the health of our democracy overall.”