Surprise, Surprise

Posted June 8, 2005 at 6:14pm

A new study finds that Senators in the minority and on the ideological edges of their party tend to filibuster more than others. But the authors of the paper failed to determine whether the use of filibusters is on the rise. [IMGCAP(1)]

“The public perception is that filibusters are this omnipresent, ongoing problem,” said University of Missouri at Columbia political scientist L. Marvin Overby in an interview. “I’m not sure that’s a fair thing to say.”

Overby collaborated with Randolph Macon College political scientist Lauren Bell to write “Filibusters and Filibusterers in the Contemporary Senate,” a paper published in the Journal of Politics.

Overby went into the project hoping that an examination of the behavior of departing Senators could provide some clue as to whether Senatorial behavior is changing.

“We thought that if we looked at retiring Senators who don’t have to worry any more” about backlash from mounting a filibuster and found that they filibustered more often, “that would be a real indication that norms had broken down,” Overby said.

However, the facts the authors assembled did not suggest that the Senate has “broken down.”

“After controlling for a variety of other factors,” the authors stated in their conclusion, “we find that Senators on the threshold of retirement do, in fact, tend to initiate more filibusters than their colleagues, but that this effect is statistically marginal.”

The study’s greatest benefit to the political community may be its identification of how many filibusters have actually been mounted over the years. “Filibusters and Filibusterers” is the first paper to identify dilatory tactics and their leaders from 1994 to 2002; the authors now hope to go backwards through time and do the same thing, which would be another first.

Overby has personal reasons for his interest in the workings of the Senate: “I used to work on the House side,” said the former aide to Rep. David Price (D-N.C.), “and we had no idea how anything got done” in the other chamber.

— Sonny Bunch