Jewish World Review April 27, 2005 / 18 Nisan, 5765
Republicans: Kill the Filibuster argument
Making up my mind on important policy issues has never been
difficult until now. I can't decide whether I am for or against
Republican efforts to change the rules governing how judicial nominations
are brought to the floor of the U.S. Senate for a vote. There is no question
that Democrats have been obstructionist in blocking President Bush's
nominees, but I am still uncomfortable with the way the GOP is trying to
solve this problem.
In unprecedented fashion, the Democrats have been able to hold
up one-third of the president's nominees for Appeals Court vacancies. Some
of these nominees have been languishing for years, despite impeccable
credentials. President Bush nominated Priscilla Owen to the Fifth Circuit in
2001, and she has yet to get a vote by the Senate. Miguel Estrada, nominated
to the D.C. Circuit, became so discouraged after more than two years of
waiting for a vote that he asked the president to withdraw his nomination.
The Democrats have succeeded in blocking these nominations by abusing Senate
rules on debate.
Until 1917, the Senate allowed for unlimited debate, which
allowed a single-minded senator or group of senators to kill bills (and
occasionally, nominations) they opposed by simply talking them to death.
According to the official Senate website, senators then put in place some
restrictions limiting debate at the suggestion of President Woodrow Wilson,
allowing a two-thirds vote or 67 senators to invoke cloture to shut
In 1975, senators once again modified their own rules, reducing
to 60 senators the number needed to force a vote. At the time, it was mostly
Democrats, who were in the majority, who favored limits on minority rights.
As Sen. Edward Kennedy said at the time, "Again and again in recent years,
the filibuster has been the shame of the Senate and the last resort of
special interest groups. Too often, it has enabled a small minority of the
Senate to prevent a strong majority from working its will and serving the
But the most significant change in filibuster rules came later,
when, by gentlemen's agreement, the Senate leadership decided that the mere
threat of a filibuster would be enough to stop a vote. Instead of forcing
obstructionist senators to take to the floor for hours on end, the Senate
began operating under a two-track system that allows legislation and other
business to move through the Senate whenever a filibuster is threatened.
Instead of pulling in the cots and forcing senators to stay up all night
reading recipes into the Congressional record, 41 senators simply indicate
their unwillingness to allow a vote, and the matter is put aside which is
the process Democrats have used to derail Bush's judicial nominees.
If the Republicans want to force a vote on the president's
nominees, they don't have to change the filibuster rules permanently, or
even adopt the so-called "nuclear option" of allowing Vice President Cheney,
acting in his Constitutional role as presiding officer of the Senate, to
rule that executive matters specifically judicial nominations are not
subject to a cloture vote. Why not just insist that senators who want to
filibuster actually do so, bringing work in the Senate to a halt?
If the Democrats really believe that stopping someone like
Janice Rogers Brown from becoming an appeals court justice is worth grinding
Congress to a stalemate, let them. They'll need more time than a filibuster
provides to convince most Americans who can now watch the talkathon on
TV, thanks to C-SPAN that an African-American woman who was re-elected to
the California Supreme Court in 1998 with 76 percent of the vote is an
"extremist." Not that they won't try. Indeed the scurrilous campaign
Democrats have waged against President Bush's nominees has been sickening
but why do Republicans want to keep Americans from a chance to witness
Democrat perfidy in prime time?
The more I think about it, the more I am convinced that
Republicans would make a mistake getting rid of the filibuster. Republicans
won't be in the majority forever, and they may rue the day when they
deprived themselves of the ability to block a candidate to some future
Supreme Court. Worse, they may end up making themselves look like the
heavies instead of forcing the Democrats to take center stage as the real
fanatics. Let the filibuster stay and force the Democrats to actually use
JWR contributor Linda Chavez is President of the Center for Equal Opportunity. Her latest book is "Betrayal: How Union Bosses Shake Down Their Members and Corrupt American Politics". (Click HERE to purchase. Sales help fund JWR.)