Wednesday, May 18, 2005


There has been an extensive amount of coverage on the Republican's attempts to do away with the filibuster in the Senate so they can confirm a very small number of judicial nominees. This is one of the most "Penny Wise Pound Foolish" ideas that I have seen some legislators come up with in a long while.

Perhaps Priscilla Owen is to radical (or reactionary) for the court. Perhaps she is as mainstream as Bill Frist suggests. In the end she is irrelevant to the significant issue here. By listening to the religious and social conservative activitists who are demanding these actions, Frist (who desperately wants to be President and thinks this is how he can get there) and his collegues are threatening a significant constitutional guarantee on our liberty. The rules of the Senate, inlcuding the filibuster, for them to deliberate and find consensus and compromise. Traditionally the Senate's role was to moderate the actions of the House of Representatives. Even when the Democrats held significant majorities in both houses of Congress, the rules of the Senate forced a legislative outcome that was more the creation of statesmen than of ideologues.

Robert Bennett, a Republican Senator from Utah is quoted in the Washington Post "Once we [Republicans] try to change the rules with 51 votes, the precedent is on the table," he said. "If Hillary Clinton becomes president with a Democratic Senate and wants to appoint Lani Guinier to the Supreme Court, Harry Reid could make that happen with 51 votes."

The activists driving the end of the filibuster assume incorrectly that the Republican Party will continue to be a majority party in the Senate and will continue to support their positions indefinately. History would suggest that they are certainly incorrect on the first assumption and likely incorrect on the second. Newt Gingrich's 1994 election victory was the first time the Republican party had held a mojority in the House of Representatives since before the Great Depression. Many felt that the Democrats would never lose the House and they were wrong. Those that assume a eternal continuation of Republican rule in the Congress are also wrong. The pendulum will swing the other way.

This is why mucking about with the Senate rules is such a stupic idea. So what if Owens can not be confirmed for the Federal Bench. She is far less important than the continuation of the role of the Senate in the legislative process.

I really hope that McCain, Nelson, Snowe and the others working for a compromise are successful. That would truly good for the country.


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