“Minority Rights” and the US Senate

Lamar Alexander on reconciliation:

The reconciliation procedure is a little-used legislative procedure — 19 times, it’s been used. It’s for the purpose of taxing, spending, and reducing deficits. But the difference here is, that there’s never been anything of this size and magnitude and complexity run through the Senate in this way. There are a lot of technical problems with it, which we could discuss. It would turn the Senate, it would really be the end of the Senate as a protector of minority rights, the place where you have to get consensus, instead of just a partisan majority.

As to the historical use of the budget reconciliation process this is hypocritical nonsense. But it’s also worth taking this “minority rights” business on.

As everyone knows, in a democracy you normally do things with a majority-rules or plurality-rules decision procedure. But as everyone also knows, part of building a sustainable liberal democratic polity is that you don’t just have “the tyranny of the majority.” A strong framework of individual rights is necessary. The idea is that you shouldn’t have the few subjected to oppression by the many. And all that’s fine as far as it goes. But it has to be seen clearly that the US Senate’s countermajoritarian aspects are rarely if ever used to protect “minority rights” in any relevant sense of the word. The Senate fought a lonely battle on behalf of Jim Crow segregation, not against it. And I think you’d be hard-pressed to find an example of a vulnerable minority being subjected to majoritarian persecution by the House, the White House, and the Supreme Court being saved by the heroics of the filibuster.