The nuclear option, slavery and the tyranny of the majority

 Morgan Griffith


To get past the Democrats’ obstructionism and allow a vote on confirming Neil Gorsuch to the Supreme Court, the Senate invoked the so-called “nuclear option.”  This eliminated the modern filibuster/cloture rule for Supreme Court nominations and allowed a simple majority to confirm him.

While it was not a surprise, the nuclear option was met with handwringing about the decline of the Republic. Senator John McCain (R-AZ) lamented the “perpetual opportunity for the tyranny of the majority.” Juan Williams wrote, “A broken Senate will facilitate the ‘tyranny of the majority,’ that John Adams warned against in the early days of the republic.”

The real nuclear option was the paralysis of our democratic republic by the modern filibuster/cloture rule.

The real tyranny is that, when voting on a bill, the minority can obstruct the combined will of a majority in the House, a majority in the Senate, and the President.

Nowhere in the Constitution do you find the filibuster. The modern filibuster/cloture rule is not a part of the constitutional framework the framers put forward, but a perversion of it.

John Adams may have expressed concern about the “tyranny of the majority” in 1788, but the Constitution ratified that year, the Bill of Rights ratified in 1791, and the amendments ratified in the subsequent centuries were directed to protect the rights of minorities from unjust infringements.

John Adams aside, the phrase “tyranny of the majority” in American history has been historically linked with pro-slavery forces. In the generations that followed the Founders, pro-slavery politicians like John C. Calhoun demanded supermajorities to enact national policies. They preached against the tyranny of the majority knowing that such a standard would protect their evil institution of slavery. Their views contradicted the ideals of our democratic republic stated by Abraham Lincoln in his Gettysburg Address, that ours is a “government of the people, by the people, for the people.”

To protect the minority in a way consistent with our democratic republic, you could go back to the earlier filibuster rule which required two-thirds of the Senate to vote to stop someone on the floor from speaking. That rule made sure that the minority delaying Senate business had the opportunity to make its case to the American people.

Instead, now anyone can put an anonymous hold on a piece of legislation. Without required explanation, a senator can let the Leader’s office know he or she objects to a matter before the Senate and then go to Charlie Palmer’s steakhouse to enjoy an adult libation of his or her choice.

The phrase “nuclear option” implies the total destruction of a community, but what does implementing the “nuclear option” on Supreme Court nominations destroy? It merely allows the will of the majority of the Senate, which was elected by the people, to be expressed.

My quarrel with the so-called “nuclear option” used in the Gorsuch nomination is that it did not go far enough. It should be extended to legislative matters, so that bills can be approved by a simple majority. This is in line with government of, by, and for the people. If majorities of the House and the Senate, with the President’s approval, sign off on policies that do not work or are unjust, the people are able to pass judgment at the next election. Eliminating the modern filibuster/cloture rule empowers the people and is in line with the principles of our democratic republic.

Today the rules of the Senate allow a small band of obstructionists to block the policy of a majority of the House, a majority of the Senate, and the President of the United States. And whether they be Democratic or Republican, they inhibit the operation of our government of, by, and for the people. This is truly the tyranny American should be concerned about.

As a Virginian, I stand by our motto, “Thus always to tyrants.” The Senate should end the tyranny of the minority by eliminating the modern filibuster/cloture rule. The system of majority rule, representative self-government envisioned by our Founders requires it.

If you have questions, concerns, or comments, feel free to contact my office.  You can call my Abingdon office at 276-525-1405 or my Christiansburg office at 540-381-5671. To reach my office via email, please visit my website at

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