10 May 2005

Bring on the Filibuster!

It looks like the US Senate will take up the issue of changing Senate rules to permit cloture (ending a filibuster) by a simple majority, rather than by by the currently required 60 votes, at least in the case of voting on presidential nominees to the federal judiciary. The so-called "Nuclear Option" of gutting the filibuster rules is a bad idea for everyone, and a better solution exists.

At issue are some 7 judicial nominations that have been stalled in the Senate, one for nearly four years. The Republicans blame the Democrats, asserting that their threat of filibuster (blocking a vote by endless debate because they don't have enough votes to win it) has caused the delay. But the Republicans are the majority and control the schedule. The Republicans have caused the delay by not bringing the contested nominations to the Senate floor, and forcing the Democrats to begin their threatened filibuster.

The filibuster is available to prevent the majority from tyrannizing the minority. If the Republicans change the rules, the American public will see it for the over-reach and power-grab that it is, and will turn the Republicans out. Even if the Republicans can maintain their majority for an election cycle or two, eventually the Democrats will get back in power. And then, when the Republicans want to filibuster an outrageously left-wing nominee, whatever will they do? The Republican Party has been billing itself as the folks who play by the rules, of late. It now seems they, too, want to change the rules in the middle of the game when when the rules prove sufficiently inconvenient.

To avoid the "Nuclear Option," some Republicans and Democrats are trying to work out a compromise in which Democrats allow four of the seven to come up for a vote, but veto the other three. This would allow the Democrats to effectively control the Senate without being in the majority. Such a compromise is also a bad idea, because it is undemocratic. Although the majority must not tyrannize the minority, neither should the minority dictate to the majority.

What I fear is that the various strategies to avoid a filibuster will (over a couple of election cycles as control of the Senate sloshes between the two major parties) result in a judiciary that reflects the current polarization in American politics. A judiciary of left- and right-wing looney tunes who can't agree on anything of importance.

What I would like to see is a good old-fashioned, talk till you're hoarse filibuster. Debate for days on end, for as long as the Democrats can talk. Either they will make sense, and constituents will tell their Republican Senators to withdraw the nominees, or the Democrats will embarass themselves, and their constituents will tell the Democrats to shut up and vote. Either way, We the People will have been well served.

Why are the Republicans afraid of going through with a Democratic filibuster? Is it because they're afraid their nominees can't stand up to a protracted debate?


LutheranChik said...

Yeah...James Stewart in Mr. Smith Goes to Washington!

melodion said...

how does that work? Is it really a substantive debate, or just a procedural ramble by a lone guy in the chamber until the clock runs out?

Scooper said...

A filibuster is a bit of all the above, I think. It starts out substantive, then gets rambling and repetitious. It is interrupted by calls to vote for cloture. A call for cloture results in a vote to cut off further debate. If cloture fails, the debate continues. If cloture wins, then the question at hand (in this case the confirmation of a particular judicial nominee) is voted upon. A filibuster can also end if the side doing the filibustering runs out of hot air and just ceases speaking.

melodion said...

that last option (filibuster ending due to lack of hot air) is completely theoretical so far, right ;-)

Scooper said...

I don't know. Here is the official line.