Members of Congress, DREAM Act students sue to abolish filibuster

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U.S. Capitol

Members of Congress and students who support the DREAM Act are joining in a lawsuit against the U.S. Senate, claiming the upper chamber’s long-standing filibuster rule is unconstitutional, several parties to the suit said Tuesday.

At least three members of Congress will join in the lawsuit to abolish the use of the filibuster, which began as a Senate parliamentary maneuver that allows its members to talk to death legislation they oppose.

Although the filibuster itself has not been used in years, most Senate action now requires at least 60 votes to prevent a filibuster; if that super-majority is not reached, pending legislation is not brought before the full Senate.

Outlawing the filibuster would change one of the Senate’s longest traditions, dating back to the founding fathers, and could have a profound impact on the flow of legislation — or, more recently, on partisan gridlock, critics said.

It would also help keep the DREAM Act on the top of the national debate as both parties struggle to appease Latino voters during a presidential election year. According to polls, a majority of Hispanics said they support legislation to could provide a pathway to citizenship for qualified undocumented youth who either attend college or serve in the military.

“We want to make sure it’s not just words, it is action,” said Erika Andiola, a Dreamer from Arizona, who graduated in 2009 with a degree in psychology.

The lawsuit was filed in the U.S. District Court on behalf of Common Cause, a nonpartisan citizen lobbying organization. The 52-page complaint indicates that the filibuster rule allows Senators, who at times represent a small margin, 11 percent, of the population, to prevent votes in the Senate and has even kept the Senate from reforming its own rules.

It’s been a difficult task for the chamber to revamp its rules partly because it needs 67 votes said Legal attorney Emmet Bondurant during a press conference at the U.S. Capitol.

The Congressional plaintiffs include U.S. Reps. Michael Michaud (D-ME), John Lewis (D-GA), Hank Johnson (D-GA), and Keith Ellison (D-MN).

Dreamers such as Erick Andiola, Ceasar Vargas and Celso Mireles who were brought to the U.S. from Mexico as children stood at the press conference bearing their stories to reporters.

All three are plaintiffs in the lawsuit.

“We tirelessly, sometimes without eating, we spent nights making sure how we can make the DREAM Act come to reality,” said Vargas, who graduated from law school with honors.

“Undocumented youth perhaps like no other group really understands how well our legislative process works…we have lived it. We have shed tears for it and we have seen that a minority has crippled dreams,” he said.

Although the DREAM Act passed in 2010 in the House, it died in the Senate, 55-41 after failing to reach a filibuster-proof majority.

“The filibuster gives more power to the Senate than the founding fathers of the Constitution intended — and now it’s being abused repeatedly,” said Rep. Johnson. “The filibuster has turned the majority rule upside down.”

The DREAM Act is only one among several bills that Congressional members claim have become politically deadlocked because of the filibuster rule. Among other victims of the rule is the effort to keep down the price of student loans.

Dreamers who presented their cases were aware that both parties are using differing versions of the legislation for political appeal. They’re hoping that Sen. Marco Rubio, who is drawing up his own proposed DREAM Act, would bring them a glimmer of hope.

Andiola said the purpose of their efforts is also to bring pressure not just on Congress, but to the Obama administration, who she said showed courage recently in expressing its support for gay marriage.

She said there’s anticipation that the president will sign an executive order that stops the deportations of undocumented youth.

“Immigration is an issue close to a lot of people’s hearts,” said Andiola. “It’s a good card to play.”

 Supporters of the DREAM Act speak out on Tuesday

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