Sunday, March 06, 2005
The horror: Today's New York Times has a shocking editorial on the GOP's efforts to turn the United States into a fascist dictatorship.
Actually, the editorial is about the prospect of changing or clarifying the Senate rules regarding the use of a filibuster.
[T]he White House's insistence on choosing only far-right judicial nominees has already damaged the federal courts. Now it threatens to do grave harm to the Senate. If Republicans fulfill their threat to overturn the historic role of the filibuster in order to ram the Bush administration's nominees through, they will be inviting all-out warfare and perhaps an effective shutdown of Congress.
And the Times editorial page complained when President Bill Clinton chose far-left judicial nominees? Didn't think so.
Elections have consequences -- or they should have. One of the consequences of electing a Republican president is conservative judicial nominees. You can vote down those nominees if you have a majority of votes in the Senate -- that outcome is also a result of elections.
But what has been happening these past few years is a perversion of the Senate's Constitutional role to "advise and confirm" nominees to the federal bench. Democrats -- a diminishing minority in the Senate -- have used the filibuster to avoid an up-or-down vote on the president's nominees. Despite what many in the media -- and the Times editorial page would like to have you believe -- this has never been done before. Never.
As the Democrats' obstruction grows ever more obnoxious, the Republicans have considered the "nuclear option" -- apparently this term was chosen by Democrats because "nuclear" is a really scary world that President Bush can't pronouce correctly.
The Republicans are claiming that 51 votes should be enough to win confirmation of the White House's judicial nominees. This flies in the face of Senate history.
This is what we in the news business call an "innaccuracy." Non-media types call it a "lie."
I challenge the editorial board of the New York Times to identify one judicial nominee between Aug. 21,1959, (when Hawaii became the 50th state -- making 51 votes in the Senate a majority) and Jan. 20, 2001 (when President George W. Bush took office) who did not get confirmed with 51+ votes. Never has the filibuster been used this way -- and the Times knows it.
Does the idea really fly in the face of Senate history? Hardly. The former Klansman and "conscience of the Senate" Robert C. Byrd himself didn't find the Senate's rules so sacrosanct that they were beyond change when it benefited the Democrats. As Human Events noted: "These (GOP) sources point out that four times in the 1970s and 1980s former Majority Leader Robert Byrd (D.-W.Va.) used a simple majority vote to set new precedents on Senate rules."
When the tables were turned, Republicans filibustered President Bill Clinton's choice for surgeon general, forcing him to choose another. And Bill Frist, the Senate majority leader, who now finds judicial filibusters so offensive, himself joined one against Richard Paez, a Clinton appeals court nominee.
A surgeon general is not a judicial nominee.
Paez was never filibustered. Never. Some Republicans attempted to filibuster Paez, but, unlike the Democrats, too many Republicans found the idea offensive and it failed. So Frist couldn't have "joined" a filibuster when it never occurred.
There is one way to avert a showdown. The White House should meet with Senate leaders of both parties and come up with a list of nominees who will not be filibustered. This means that Mr. Bush - like Presidents Bill Clinton, Ronald Reagan and George H. W. Bush before him - would agree to submit nominees from the broad mainstream of legal thought, with a commitment to judging cases, not promoting a political agenda.
What the Times considers the "mainstream" and what the majority of the American people consider "mainstream" are two drastically different things.
One of the disturbing undercurrents of the Times' editorial, and the Democratic Party's arguments, is that judges can be opposed solely on an ideological basis. This idea is of recent vintage [read: the election of George W. Bush]. Yes, Republicans would oppose liberal judicial nominees and even vote against them, but they would work hard to come up with some non-ideological justification for their opposition -- whether it was a lack of judicial temperment, some skeleton in the closet or something else.
The Democrats' reverence for Senate tradition only extends as far as their current political needs.
On a related note: It will be interesting to see how the media plays a Democratic shutdown of the government. When House Republicans led by Speaker Newt Gingrich tried a similar tactic back in the '90s against President Clinton, the blowback from the media and the public effectively ended Gingrich's career in the House.