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May 19, 2005

Filibuster Fight Gets Serious

A surprisingly balanced piece from the NYT.

Key bits:

In his opening remarks, Dr. Frist said Democrats had "radically" altered the traditions of the Senate by blocking votes on 10 of 45 appeals court candidates put forward by Mr. Bush. Even as a bipartisan group of senators sought to head off a climactic vote, Dr. Frist said the filibuster must be brought to a halt either by allowing the Senate to decide the nominations or changing the rules to ban such tactics. "We must restore the 214-year-old principle that every judicial nominee with majority support deserves an up-or-down vote," Dr. Frist said.

Democrats, alternating in speeches on the Senate floor with their Republican counterparts, were quick to note that Dr. Frist had himself voted to filibuster one judicial nominee in Mr. Clinton's administration, and that Republicans had employed procedural tactics of their own to stall as many as 70 candidates put forward by Mr. Clinton.

Senator Arlen Specter, the Pennsylvania Republican who is chairman of the Judiciary Committee, said that both parties were at fault. "These filibusters are the culmination of a power struggle between Republicans and Democrats as to which party can control the judicial selection process through partisan maneuvering," Mr. Specter said, adding that Democrats saw the filibusters as "payback time" for the way the Clinton nominees were treated.


Though the showdown has been building for the past two years, some senators of both parties had hoped it would never come, sparing them a difficult choice between party loyalty and Senate tradition. A bipartisan group of senators huddled in meetings that shifted among Senate offices, trying to strike a side deal that would forestall a vote. An agreement that would satisfy both sides remained out of reach on Wednesday night, though those involved promised to keep talking.

"We are just going to keep working together," Senator Ben Nelson, Democrat of Nebraska and a leader of the negotiations, said as he left an afternoon meeting between 7 Republicans and 4 Democrats.


Senior Congressional officials of both parties said the question of how to handle the Supreme Court issue was a main sticking point of the compromise negotiations.

Three officials, who would speak only without being identified because of the confidential nature of the talks, said Republican negotiators had offered to withhold their votes on the rules change but reserved their right to back it later if Democrats filibustered a nominee Republicans deemed acceptable. Democrats say the threat of the rules change must be eliminated for this session.

Negotiators also continued to wrestle with which disputed judges should have floor votes. Because of withdrawals by some candidates and Democratic offers to allow votes on others, the number of pending nominations at issue has been whittled to five, including that of Justice Owen.

A number of Republicans said a compromise that blocked votes on any of them was unacceptable. "I think there will be an uproar on our side if we throw anybody overboard," said Senator Orrin G. Hatch of Utah, a senior Republican on the Judiciary Committee.


Given the ongoing efforts at compromise and the difficult votes that may be ahead, several senators said they had no inkling how the fight was ultimately going to play out - a rare uncertainty in the Capitol. "It is when Congress is at its most interesting," said Senator John E. Sununu, Republican of New Hampshire.

Again, at least they're serious. But those 7 (seven!) Republicans seeking a compromise -- as opposed to four Democrats seeking one -- fills me with heart-ache.

Not because I necessarily reject a compromise (depends on the compromise, of course), but because the Democrats will hold fast on partisan loyalty and we cannot lose more than five Republicans.

Let me propose my own compromise:

These seven wavering Republicans can vote to kill the filibuster but preserve the right of the minority to block unacceptable judges by simply voting with the minority when they believe the minority has a good case.

But of course they'd like to avoid that... John McCain would prefer to allow the Democrats to block judges without getting his hands dirty by assisting them in that task. He still has this goofy notion that he can be President.

Maybe he could cobble together an electorally viable ad-hoc "centrist" coalition against a weak Democrat and weak Republican candidate, but that's a low-probability play.

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posted by Ace at 12:35 PM

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