The Senate is designed to proceed at a measured pace, guaranteeing that the rights of the minority party are protected from what Alexis de Tocqueville called the “tyranny of the majority.” The father of the Constitution, James Madison, wrote in the Federalist No. 10, “Measures are too often decided, not according to the rules of justice and the rights of the minor party, but by the superior force of an interested and overbearing majority.” James Madison explains in Federalist Nos. 62 and 63 that, along with other features of our Constitution, the Senate was constructed to prevent temporary majorities trampling on the rights of the minority. Contrast that with the majority leader’s vision for an altered Senate where the majority party could steamroll the minority.
The proposed transformation of the Senate threatens to replace the principle of the rights of the minority, so important to Madison, with a new principle that the might of the majority makes right. I urge senators to heed Madison’s warning in Federalist No. 63 about temporary majorities in the heat of passion enacting “measures which they themselves will afterwards be the most ready to lament and condemn.”
Sen. Charles E. Grassley, R-Iowa, is a former chairman of the Senate Finance Committee and currently serves as ranking member of the Senate Judiciary Committee. This commentary is adapted from a Dec. 5 floor speech he delivered.
Vice President Joe Biden waits to conduct a mock swearing-in ceremony with Sen. Brian Schatz, D-Hawaii, in the Capitol's Old Senate Chamber, December 2, 2014. Schatz was sworn in to serve the remainder of his term since he was appointed to the seat after Sen. Daniel Inouye, D-Hawaii, passed away.