Filibusters on the Hill create problems

By Joel Lanceta

Oh, those silly senators and their 40-hour talkathons! After two straight days of trying to overcome Democratic filibusters on three Bush judicial nominees, Republicans ended up with two more Bush nominees filibustered. Oh, the irony! I pulled an all-nighter last week and got a B in my bio midterm. Senate Republicans pull two all-nighters and get even more of their President’s judicial nominees blocked. Hmmm…I know the analogy isn’t very good, but still, somewhere the logic just doesn’t add up. Who’s at fault here? I don’t know everything about the six conservative nominees that the Democratic senators blocked from a confirmation vote, but I do know that former Republican presidents have nominated conservative judges, and Democrats were still able to reject their nomination by a full Senate vote (remember Robert Bork?).But if there are lessons to be learned from this political situation, then I would guess it would be these three:

1) If Republicans do decide to stage all-night debates and use taxpayers’ money to fund them, couldn’t they discuss a more pressing topic like, say, our billions of dollars in deficit, the faltering economy and rising health care coverage, and, that little thing in the Middle East called the War on Terrorism?

2) As much as I hate to say it, Democrats are pushing the Constitutional boundaries in blocking these judicial nominees, and their reasons are wearing thin on the entirely “ideological” debate. They’ve already approved 162 of Bush’s 168 nominees, but these six are different mainly because they’ve been nominated to the higher appellate courts. Democrats are playing partisan politics here.

3) All the talk from Senate Republicans that this type of filibuster is unconstitutional and should be resolved in the Supreme Court (as one Senator Lindsay Graham did threaten) means nothing. It ain’t gonna happen.The filibuster, as old as the 19th century politicians who realized the loophole in the Senate rules to allow it, has become a staple of Congressional obstruction. Every senator uses the filibuster to talk any issue to death that they don’t want to come to vote. Even Jimmy Stewart used it in Mr. Smith Goes to Washington to heroically battle corrupt senators. Senators will never allow filibustering to completely disappear as long as they can use it. It won’t be changed in the Senate rules. For the first time, Democrats are using filibusters to block judicial nominees. Perhaps it is just the Republicans complaining about their slim majority in the Senate and about how they’re worried about the direction of swing votes of moderate Democrats. The Republicans needed 60 votes to break a filibuster—they only have 51 senators—though they do have enough representation to confirm a judge in the absence of a filibuster. But they are right that the Democrats are setting a bad precedent in filibustering judicial nominees, for in the future it might be a Democratic president who finds his judicial confirmations bottlenecked in the Senate by malevolent Republicans.Majority rule is the basis for democracy in America.

The minority still is represented in the government, but it is the majority that prevails. Article II, Section 2 of the U.S. Constitution calls for the advice and consent of only a simple majority of the Senate to confirm a presidential appointee. The Democrats have already created a precedent that judges, albeit from the appellate court, can have their confirmation blocked through filibustering. In the future, however, this could lead to more partisan politics where department appointees, ambassadorships, and higher court appointees, particularly to the Supreme Court, find their confirmation logrolled through all sorts of Senate rules. The U.S. government definitely doesn’t need these positions vacant for long periods of time.

What do I say to solve this issue then? Democrats need to lay off the filibusters on nominees, and try to round up actual votes against the candidate on the floor instead. The Constitution needs to be preserved, especially while John Ashcroft is still attorney general. This will actually make the Democrats’ power in the Senate seem tangible and give the press the impression that they are still a viable force in the Senate. After this, Republicans in the Senate can actually continue with more pressing and important issues, instead of pissing away $82,000 an hour in taxpayers’ money on vapid debates like this. Then everyone in Washington will be happy, at least until Howard Dean gets the Democratic Presidential Nomination—then all hell breaks loose.