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Filibuster challenge thrown out by judge

  • Article by: ANDREW ZAJAC
  • Bloomberg News
  • December 21, 2012 - 9:12 PM

A challenge to the U.S. Senate's filibuster rule was rejected by a federal judge, who said that the plaintiffs had no legal right to bring the case and that courts may not intervene in the workings of Congress.

District Judge Emmet Sullivan ruled that the lawsuit, filed by the public interest group Common Cause, members of the House of Representatives and undocumented residents who would have benefited from passage of the so-called Dream Act, represented an unwarranted intrusion into the Senate's right to operate as it sees fit.

"The court finds that reaching the merits of this case would require an invasion into internal Senate processes at the heart of the Senate's constitutional prerogatives as a House of Congress, and would thus express a lack of respect for the Senate as a coordinate branch of government," Sullivan said in a 47-page opinion.

Sullivan's decision didn't address the suit's central claim that the rule requiring 60 votes to shut down debate on a bill is an unconstitutional abuse of the Senate's power to make its own rules, said Mary Boyle, a spokeswoman for Common Cause.

"We're going to appeal," Boyle said. "You have a minority that is controlling everything and blocking a lot of progress."

Common Cause filed its complaint in May, contending that the 60-vote requirement to stop a filibuster conflicts with the simple majority of 51 votes needed to pass most legislation.

Other plaintiffs included four Democratic members of the U.S. House -- Keith Ellison of Minnesota, John Lewis of Georgia, Michael Michaud of Maine and Hank Johnson of Georgia -- and three Mexican-born U.S. residents who alleged that they were denied the benefits of immigration law changes in the House-passed Dream Act because it was blocked by a Senate filibuster.

Neither the U.S. resident plaintiffs nor Common Cause have standing to sue because they couldn't demonstrate that the court could do anything to repair the alleged harm they suffered, Sullivan said in his ruling.

Sullivan also said that the Senate's right to make its own rules trumped the House members' claim that they were harmed by filibusters of legislation they had voted for.

The suit was filed against Vice President Joseph Biden in his capacity as Senate president and other Senate officers.

© 2014 Star Tribune