Mimsy Were the Borogoves

Editorials: Where I rant to the wall about politics. And sometimes the wall rants back.

Short-sighted supermajorities

Jerry Stratton, January 12, 2010

In the New York Times, Thomas Geoghegan writes that the founders “hated” supermajorities:

The founders, though, were dead set against supermajorities as a general rule, and the ever-present filibuster threat has made the Senate a more extreme check on the popular will than they ever intended.

Dead set against supermajorities? The founders required supermajorities from the start of the American experiment. A supermajority of one hundred percent was required to resolve independence on July 2, 1776.

Most states already followed the common-law requirement of supermajorities of 100% to convict in jury trials, and they continued to do so.

Article V of the constitution sets a supermajority of two-thirds of congress to propose amendments to the Constitution; or two-thirds of the states to call a constitutional convention. And a supermajority of three-fourths of the states is required to pass the resulting constitutional changes.

Article II of the constitution sets a supermajority of two-thirds of the Senate for adopting treaties. Article I requires a supermajority of two-thirds of the senate to convict an impeached president.

For that matter, the senate itself is a form of supermajority. The votes of the Senators from Vermont and North Dakota (populations under 700,000) count just as much as the votes of the Senators from California and Texas (populations over 20,000,000).

The House (Article I) can kick a member out—if a two-thirds supermajority agrees.

Article I also specifies that congress can overrule a presidential veto (a 100% supermajority) by a two-thirds vote in each house (two more supermajorities).

And of course, talking about how the Senate’s use of supermajorities violates the founders’ original vision ignores the fact that the Senate even without supermajorities violates the founders’ original vision. The senate was originally a voice for each individual state, and its members were chosen according to state rules, not federal rules as today. Senators were not envisioned as the product of popular votes. It was the seventeenth amendment that changed that… an amendment proposed and approved by separate supermajorities, rules put in place by the founders.

Those are only the ones I happened to find in the last couple of minutes while writing this article. The founders used supermajorities to protect liberty wherever they deemed it possible. I think they would have used them even more if they thought they could get away with it.

Think about it this way: would Thomas Geoghegan really have wanted no supermajority requirement when the house and the senate were majority Republican a few years ago, with a Republican president?

  1. <- Ten years ago today
  2. Plucking congress ->