Monday December 10, 2012 | 01:58 PM

WASHINGTON – Maine U.S. Rep. Mike Michaud, D-District 2, and several other House Democrats were in federal court on Monday challenging the constitutionality of the Senate filibuster.

The four House members signed onto a case filed by the organization Common Cause that argues that a minority of senators are thwarting the will of the majority by over-use of the filibuster. Under Senate rules, 60 votes are required to proceed with consideration of a bill, which often allows the minority party in the 100-seat Senate to delay or block legislation.

The other Democratic House members are Reps. John Lewis and Hank Johnson, both of Georgia, and Rep. Keith Ellison of Minnesota.

The lawsuit comes at a time when Senate Democrats are seriously considering a number of reforms to the filibuster, which has exploded in use in recent years by the Republican minority. Filibuster reform could be one of the first major fights of the new Senate next year.

Common Cause filed the challenge in U.S. District Court in Washington, DC, back in May on behalf of three undocumented immigrants who claim Republicans’ use of the filibuster has blocked consideration of the DREAM Act. The three individuals are also parties to the lawsuit.

The act would provide a “path to residency” for undocumented immigrants who were brought to the U.S. as minors, lived in the U.S. for at least five years prior to the bill’s passage, have graduated from high school and have not gotten into trouble with the law.

Common Cause argues that the court should nullify the filibuster because, as the group argues in a release, it is “an accident of history, not included in the Constitution and never contemplated by its drafters.” But critics contend the court would be inserting the judicial branch into the legislative process.

Michaud signed onto the lawsuit in May not over the immigration issue but because he was frustrated that a bill he co-sponsored in the House dealing with funding for state’s veterans homes was being held up in the Senate by one member.

“Changing the Senate filibuster and holds would dramatically improve the functionality of government and make Congress far more productive,” Michaud said in May. “It could also increase the number of moderate senators instead of isolating them and improve the reimbursement rates of state veterans homes.”

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Kevin Miller is Washington bureau chief for the Portland Press Herald and MaineToday Media. He has worked as a journalist in Maine for 6 ½ years, covering the environment, politics and the State House. Before arriving in Maine, he wrote about politics, government and education for newspapers in Virginia and Maryland.
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