Reid: "The Best Speech on the Filibuster"
U.S. SENATOR DANIEL K. INOUYE'S REMARKS IN THE U.S. SENATE ON THE
May 12, 2005
For Immediate Release
WASHINGTON Mr. President, on January 31, 1963, I gave my maiden
speech in the Senate. That is over 40 years ago 42 years ago. At
that moment, the Senate was embroiled in a very heated debate on
civil rights. The question before the Senate was the filibuster
because many of my colleagues, especially those who were designated
as liberals, looked upon the filibuster as the major obstacle to the
granting of civil rights to the oppressed minority of this Nation.
On that day, I was given the right to the floor and I gave a short
speech. I think it is quite relevant at this moment. If I may, these
are the words of 31 January 1963:
Mr. President, I fully understand the respected custom of this body
which advises a new member to sit in his chair, to listen quietly
and learn before he rises to speak to the Senate himself.
There is wisdom in that custom, as there is in most customs which
last through years of trial and experience. I would not willingly
break that honored silence, but because this debate calls to
question the place of the minority in a democratic political system,
I feel I must say these few words in deep but passionate humility,
for I am a member of a minority, in a sense few other Senators have
I understand the hopelessness that a man of unusual color or feature
experiences in the face of constant human injustice.
I understand the despair of a human heart crying for comfort to a
world it cannot become a part of and to a family of man that has
For this reason, I have done and will continue to do all that one
man can do to secure for these people the opportunity and the
justice that they do not now have. But if any lesson of history is
clear, it is that minorities change, new minorities take their
place, and old minorities grow into the majority.
One can discern this course in our own history by observing the
decisions of the Supreme Court, where the growth of the Nation's law
so often takes the form of adopting as the opinion of the Court the
dissenting view of the earlier decision.
From this fact, we discern the simple example of a vital democratic
principle. I have heard so often in the past few weeks eloquent and
good men plead for the chance to let the majority rule. That is,
they say, the essence of democracy. I disagree, for to me it is
equally clear that democracy does not necessarily result from
majority rule, but rather from the forged compromise of the majority
with the minority.
The philosophy of the Constitution and the Bill of Rights is not
simply to grant the majority the power to rule, but is also to set
out limitation after limitation upon that power.
Freedom of speech, freedom of the press, freedom of religion: What
are these but the recognition that at times when the majority of men
would willingly destroy him, a dissenting man may have no friend but
This power given to the minority is the most sophisticated and the
most vital power bestowed by our Constitution.
In this day of the mass mind and the lonely crowd, the right to
exercise this power and the courage to express it has become less
and less apparent. One of the few places where this power remains a
living force is in the United States Senate.
Let us face the decision before us directly. It is not free speech,
for that has never been recognized as a legally unlimited right. It
is not the Senate's inability to act at all, for I cannot believe
that a majority truly determined in their course could fail
eventually to approach their ends. It is, instead the power of the
minority to reflect a proportional share of their view upon the
legislative result that is at stake in this debate.
To those who wish to alter radically the balance of power between a
majority in the Senate and a minority, I say, you sow the wind, for
minorities change and the time will surely come when you will feel
the hot breath of a righteous majority at the back of your own neck.
Only then perhaps you will realize what you have destroyed.
As Alexis de Tocqueville said about America in 1835: "A democracy
can obtain truth only as the result of experience; and many nations
may perish while they are awaiting the consequences of their errors."
The fight to destroy the power of the minority is made here,
strangely enough, in the name of another minority. I share the
desire of those Senators who wish to help the repressed people of
our Nation, and in time, God willing, we shall effectively
accomplish this task. But I say to these Senators, we cannot achieve
these ends by destroying the very principle of minority protection
that remains here in the Senate.
For as De Tocqueville also commented: "If ever the free institutions
of America are destroyed, that event may be attributed to the
omnipotence of the majority."