Is the showdown on? From Madrid where he leads the NATO summit, Joe Biden spoke on Thursday, June 30, on the decision of the American Supreme Court ending the protection of the right to abortion. The 46th American president felt he had to ” codify Roe v. Wade into law, and the way to do it is to make sure Congress votes to do it. “.
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But, faced with the risk of obstruction by Republican senators, he launched the idea of a ” exception » to the rules of the filibuster, a practice allows senators to prolong the debate on a text of law indefinitely, and thus to avoid the passage to the vote. Already at the beginning of the year, the American President proposed to reform this system. On January 11, he supported “ any Senate rule change to prevent a minority of senators from blocking progress on suffrage “. To understand this use and the feasibility of Joe Biden’s proposal, Marianne asked three questions to Jean-Éric Branaa, specialist in the United States.
Marianne : Concretely, what is the filibuster ?
Jean-Eric Branaa : This is an obstruction rule allowing the opposition to prevent debate on a law they disapprove of. When a text arrives in Congress, after passing through the committee, it is debated by the senators. Clearly, as the duration of the debates is not limited, they can make the discussions last indefinitely, and therefore delay the moment of the vote by as much time. Most of the time, there is simply no ballot. To put an end to this discussion, you need the approval of 60 elected officials. However, the United States Senate is made up of 50 Republicans, 48 Democrats and two non-registered people who lean more towards the Democratic side. If ever Joe Biden launches a bill to legalize abortion at the federal level, discussions on the text risk being blocked by the opposition. He therefore proposes to exceptionally suspend this rule in order to bypass the debates and go directly to the vote.
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This system was designed by the Founding Fathers in order to balance the powers between the majority and the opposition. We can compare with the fact that in France, the presidency of the finance commission returns to a member of the opposition since Nicolas Sarkozy. The latter was greatly inspired by the American way of working.
Is this trick likely to work?
It’s hard to predict. Joe Biden is a centrist who believes in the American constitution. This proposal is already surprising. There is an unknown in the person of Joe Manchin. He is one of the most conservative Democratic senators and he is very attached to the constitution. It is not certain that he follows Joe Biden, but the subject of abortion is a real regression. Also a Democrat, Arizona Senator Kyrsten Sinema can oppose this exception from the filibuster. If we take away these two elected officials, the Democrats have only 46 senators plus the two non-attached members. In reality, Joe Biden is unlikely to win his bet because he needs 50 votes and Republicans will all vote against.
I think it is above all a way for the president to show that he is on the case, to the point that he proposes to put a penknife to his own principles. In fact, he has the power to issue a decree to legalize abortion at the federal level, but he refuses to govern in this way. He did so at the very beginning of his presidency but, attached to the constitution as he is, he wanted to restore the balance of power between president and Senate. Moreover, even if his project works, the risk that the Republicans win the midterm elections at the end of the year and go back on the law exists. All this is a storm in a teacup.
Is the battle for the right to abortion definitively lost?
The Supreme Court is far right today. The judges, who are relatively young, are appointed for life. We’re going to have a tough 20 years for progressives. I don’t see how the right to abortion can be reinstated. The only solution for women in the states affected by the ban is to move.
READ ALSO: Right to abortion: no, France is not the United States
Democrat Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez floated an interesting idea recently. She proposes to increase the number of judges on the Supreme Court, which is not set in stone. At the time, it was set at nine because it was believed that the country was divided into so many judicial districts. But that has changed, there are now thirteen. If the country decides to match that number, Joe Biden could appoint four more judges. Added to the three Democrats, they will be in the majority. What Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez is proposing is very clever and can be defended from a legal point of view. But Joe Biden is a principled old gentleman, I don’t think he’ll go down that road.