Eat At Joes

Just a regular Joe who is angry that the USA, the country he loves, is being corrupted and damaged from within and trying to tell his fellow Americans the other half of the story that they don’t get on the TV News.

Location: Chicago, Illinois, United States

Tuesday, April 26, 2005

Preventing one-party rule - filibuster is a quaint and sometimes-abused tactic, but it plays a valuable role, even on judicial nominations

The Oregonian

In his 1796 farewell speech after two terms as president, George Washington warned against the rise of political parties. He feared that the consolidation of power by one party would encourage leaders to refuse "to confine themselves within their respective constitutional spheres" and lead the nation into "a real despotism."

Washington's words point directly at what's wrong with the move by Republicans in the U.S. Senate to do away with the filibuster on judicial nominations. The filibuster is a parliamentary tactic that works against one-party rule. It allows a minority to block a vote through unlimited debate, and refusing to vote, that can be cut off only by a vote for "cloture" by 60 or more senators.

Which means the 55 Republicans who control the Senate are five votes shy of being able to stop the Democrats' threatened filibuster of some of President Bush's controversial judicial nominations. Thus Republicans may force a vote, requiring only a simple majority, to ban judicial filibusters -- a radical move dubbed "the nuclear option."

On Friday, Vice President Dick Cheney darkly warned Democrats he will cast the tie-breaking vote, as the Constitution permits, to ban the filibusters if the Senate deadlocks. His threat stems from the fact that a handful of Republican senators see the downside of this maneuver and won't go along with it.

Regrettably, Oregon's Republican senator, Gordon Smith, is not among this handful. He has given the Senate GOP leadership his qualified support for the anti-filibuster move, if it comes to a vote, but strongly insists it would be best to leave the filibuster alone and work out a compromise.

He's right. It's not too late to head off a messy Senate food fight about these judicial nominations. There's room for the Democrats to give in on some of Bush's federal court appointees. And there's room for the president to seek out a middle ground.

That's the core of the problem. The Constitution doesn't give a president and his party absolute power to dictate judicial appointments. It must be done with the advice and consent of the Senate. Republicans are demanding the Senate's consent, but not the advice, because that requires listening to the minority party.

But that's why America's founders created the Senate -- to counterbalance majority passions. That's why small states dominate the Senate.

Conservatives seeking to tarnish their opponents point out that the filibuster was once a favored tactic of Southern segregationists trying to block civil rights legislation. That's a strange argument, given that conservative senators in that era didn't try to shut up their racist colleagues by wresting the floor from them.

Anyway, today's fight isn't about segregation. It's about one political party trying to build a more ideologically compliant judicial branch -- pretty much the sort of consolidation of power George Washington warned about.

For more than a century, the filibuster has proved to be a protector of minority rights and a safeguard against one-party rule. The nation would be best-served by a compromise that puts an end to this shortsighted changing of Senate rules.

©2005 The Oregonian


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