Sunday, December 6, 2009

The German filibuster that wasn't

The German president -- yes, president, not chancellor -- has recently made news for his refusal to sign a law so it can take effect. As you probably know, Germany has a Chancellor: Merkel, Schröder, Kohl, etc. But Germany also has a president, who is largely a symbolic figure, but does play a number of roles, including the following (from Wikipedia):

All federal laws must, after counter-signature, be signed by the president before they can come into effect.[11] Upon signing, the President has to check if the law was passed according to the order mandated by the constitution and/or if the content of the law is constitutional. If not, he has the right (and, some argue, the duty) to refuse to sign the law. This has happened only eight times. The constitution is not explicit on whether the President can refuse to sign a law merely because he disagrees with its content, i.e. if he has a power of veto, but it is generally held that he does not have such a power. In any case, no President has ever refused to sign a law unless he believed the constitution was being violated.

Now imagine that the United States has such a person. If there is a Republican or Democratic majority in the House and Senate, the president elected would then be a member of the majority party. Now imagine that this person cannot technically veto a law without saying that it is unconstitutional.

Do you think, in American politics, it would be possible for that person to refrain from exercising that right in all cases but eight over the past 60 years?

That's another thing I like about Germany -- so many people try to play fair. To see the number of times the filibuster has been used in the US, see this chart.

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