Friday, May 13, 2005

Senate going nuclear

The United States Senate is about to engage in what is called the "nuclear option," meaning the Republican majority will wait out a few final Democratic filibusters before the GOP moves to make a rule change that will insure that the federal judges President Bush nominates will receive a straight up or down vote on their appointments to the bench.

The proposed rule change will not do away with the filibuster, and if it did, I would be among the first to oppose it. The filibuster was designed to protect us from bad legislation. In the early 19th Century, the Senate codified its rules so that debate could not come to an end on any motion or bill without 3/5ths of members agreeing to end debate and move to a vote. The rule was made to insure that every Senator has the chance to be heard and, if need be, to use the debate itself as a tool to block bad legislation. Because the Senate was originally established as a body where members were appointed by state legislatures, filibusters were often used to protect the rights of less populous states against conglomerations of larger states.

However, since the U.S. abandoned the state appointment system for Senators in 1917 (a move that many of us with brains think was the worst thing that could have ever happened to the Senate), the filibuster changed its complexion. It could still be used to protect the rights of the little people, and most of the time it was used for that purpose and it still is. Now, however, it is not being used as a tool to protect the rights of the potentially oppressed, it is merely being used to block judges from being appointed to the bench that do not accept the holy grail of the Democratic Party: That abortion is somehow a constitutional right, even though it is never mentioned and our founders clearly did not intend it to be on the agenda. The judges the Democrats are filibustering are those who believe in the Constitution as it was written, not as they would like it to be, and that is unacceptable to Democrats.

People should take note, then, that the coming battle on the Senate floor over the nomination of John Bolton as U.N. Ambassador is really part of a larger political war. It is but the first battle in a series of debates and outright fights on the floor of the Senate in the coming weeks that could literally shut down the Senate, or at least make it cease to function as normal. At this point, Mr. Bolton has really become a pawn in a game of political chess. The fight over his nomination (and it is controversial) is really being used by the White House and by GOP Senate leaders to test the waters for the battle that is going to take place over judicial filibusters.

The judges the President sends up to Capitol Hill deserve an up or down vote based on the merits of their nomination, and the federal courts should not be held hostage to the interest groups of the Democratic Party. If giving the President's judicial nominees means that the Republicans have to engage in all-out political warfare on the Senate floor in order to insure judicial fairness, so be it. Guaranteeing a vote on federal judges may mean a rule change to disallow filibusters on judicial appointments. Perhaps the Democrats should remember that it was their party who pushed for the destruction of the Senatorial system in 1917, and they got their way-the Constitution was amended accordingly. Thus, it is fair to say that if the structure and nature of the Senate can be so irreparably altered, then the rules of the Senate, which were designed to reflect that body's original purpose and intent, can be changed also.


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