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Public Strongly Backs Senate Rules Reform

A new poll released today finds overwhelming public support for reforming the Senate rules.

Conducted by Public Policy Polling in 10 states — Arkansas, California, Florida, Massachusetts, Michigan, Missouri, Montana, North Carolina, Rhode Island, and Vermont — the survey found:

  • A whopping 81 percent of respondents said the Senate "does not deal with important issues facing the country in a timely manner," while only 14 percent believed the Senate does.
  • Overwhelmingly, 61 percent of the public supports their senator voting to change the Senate rules to "reduce gridlock." Only 25 percent wanted their senator to vote against changing the Senate rules.
  • Of those surveyed, 62 percent backs the concept of only allowing one opportunity to filibuster a bill, instead of the four different opportunities that the current Senate rules allow. Just 28 percent opposed limiting senators to one opportunity.
  • Asked if senators who filibuster a bill should continue to debate the bill on the Senate floor, 70 percent said yes. Only 20 percent said no.
  • Of the respondents, 75 percent favored a proposal to change the rules so that people who have been nominated to serve as judges have an up or down vote on their nominations in a more timely manner. Merely 17 percent opposed the idea.

In recent weeks, a number of Senators have charged that it would be improper for the new Senate to change the rules by majority vote. But a group of constitutional law and Senate procedure scholars disagree.

"With respect, such a concern confuses the power to change the Senate's rules during a session, with the unquestioned constitutional power of each incoming Senate to fix its own rules unencumbered by the decisions of past Senates," they wrote in a letter sent to the Senate on Wednesday. "The standing two-thirds requirement for altering the Senate's rules is a sensible effort at preventing changes to the rules in the midst of a game. It cannot, however, prevent the Senate, at the beginning of a new game, from adopting rules deemed necessary to permit the just, efficient and orderly operation of the 113th Senate."

The letter included endorsements from Michael McConnell (Stanford Law professor, former federal judge), Charles Fried (Harvard Law professor, former Solicitor General under President Reagan), Erwin Chemerinsky (Dean of UC-Irvine Law School), Burt Neuborne (NYU Law professor) and others.

Read the full letter here.