Our Founding Fathers recognized how the unchecked power of a majority would be a constant threat to individual liberty. They acknowledged that government was necessary, but they also knew that a government elected by a majority could easily trample the freedoms of the minority. They and their ancestors had come from dictatorial monarchies, and they fully understood that, more often than not, government was something to fear and should therefore be limited.
This month Majority Leader Harry Reid and his Democrat colleagues voted to change the Senate rules with a simple majority vote of 51 to 48. Most people would simply shrug and think, “So? Isn’t that the way democracy is supposed to work?” For the past 222 years in the U.S. Senate, the answer to that question has been no.
Historically, if the minority objects, Senate rules dictate that a supermajority vote of two-thirds is first needed to cut off debate, before a simple majority vote can change the rules of the Senate. This requirement was established to protect the rights of the minority in the Senate, just as our Constitution was established to protect the rights of a single individual — the ultimate minority. Instead of using the formal rules change procedure — requiring a two-thirds hurdle vote — Reid used a parliamentary maneuver to set a new precedent, with a simple majority vote.