PHOENIX — Democrats in the U.S. Senate hope to begin a debate on two voting rights bills on Thursday.
The legislation appears doomed to fail since Democrats don't have the 50 votes needed to change the rules and carve out a filibuster exception for voting rights.
The filibuster is not in the Constitution, it is part of the Senate rules. It was designed to protect the Senate from the majority party from becoming a dictatorship.
But over the years the rules have changed to make some exceptions to the 60-vote threshold.
An example is federal judges, including Supreme Court nominees, who no longer need 60 votes to be confirmed.
There was also a time when Senators had to go to well of the Senate to control the debate.
Not anymore, says Paul Bender, Dean Emeritus of the Sandra Day O'Connor School of Law.
"If you want to stop the majority from something, you should at least have to get up and explain why," Bender said. "Now you just say, we don't want it. You don't have 60 votes, you can't do this. That's so anti-democratic that I don't think it should be used generally."
Arizona Senator Kyrsten Sinema supports the voting rights legislation, but says there can be no exceptions to the filibuster.
So Sinema will not vote to change it.
"My support for retaining the 60-vote threshold is not based on the importance of any particular policy. It is based on what's best for our democracy," Senator Sinema said during her speech Thursday from the Senate. "The filibuster compels moderation and helps protect the country from wild swings between opposing policy poles."
Bender believes carving out an exception for voting rights is appropriate and the Senate should do it.
"There may be some legislation where it makes sense because it pushes people to compromise. But you don't want to compromise on voting rights legislation. Everybody has a right to vote," Bender said.
On Wednesday when Senators are asked to vote to change the rules on the filibuster, Senator Sinema intends to vote no.
"Eliminating the 60-vote threshold will simply guarantee we lose a critical tool we need to safeguard our democracy," Sinema said.