Wednesday, April 27, 2005

Conservatives and the Filibuster

Now that the Republicans seem to be gaining at least some rhetorical meekness on the exercise of the nuclear option (under some duress from the opposition), I'll swear to the fact that I knew they would. Honestly. Not that is is of much political consequence -they'll certainly still lord this threat over the Democrats' heads (a huge political mistake in my view) - but now that they've recently sidelined some of the more zealous judicial sermonizing, I'll swear to the fact that I knew they would. Honestly. But Bill Frist has apparently dug in his heels at the front line of the cadre calling for a ban on filibustering judicial nominees. It doesn't need to be said that this makes their previous threat to ban gay marriage look like a minor estrangement from constitutionalism. Not that retaining the legacy of Jesse Helms should be a top priority for the party, but the March 29 memo circulated by Republican activist Jim Boulet, Jr. (thanks go to Gene Healy) observes the centrality of the filibuster to the conservative principle of legislating according to constitutional "strict construction", and paints a lucid picture of how dim the prospects for conservative policymaking would be without the filibuster option. One wonders in light of all this if Republicans will ever again esteem the principle of "standing athwart history, yelling 'stop.' " The Frist/DeLay leadership has of late grown increasingly adept at shooting itself in the foot politically, but few tenured Republicans in Congress could likely forget the potency of relatively recent filibuster threats in impeding Democratic flights of lawmaking fancy. To say that the Democrats' use for the filibuster in this debate is unconventional and unfair is a great understatement. But the designs of the Republican leadership can only further isolate the Congress from its constitutional mandate.The opportunity is dwindling for the zealots to heed the moderates.


At 8:49 AM, Blogger Michael Horner said...

I don't think Republicans will regret limiting their own access to the filibuster for some years to come, as it presupposes the opposition will actually have some policymaking worthy of objection. (As an aside - what do you consider recent?)

At 9:46 AM, Blogger Preston King said...

As to recent examples of Republican use of "filibuster" (sic), I've not done any fundamental research of my own but I did find this on The Wall Street Journal's Online edition:

"Lies of the Nuclear Age

One of the filibuster myths that Democrats are hyping these days is that Republicans participated in filibusters of two of President Clinton's nominees to the Ninth Circuit. In fact, the Senate action on Richard Paez and Marsha Berzon in 2000 took place with the express aim of getting their nominations to the Senate floor for a vote -- just the opposite of what is happening today, when Democrats want to deny the President's nominees an up-or-down vote.

In 2000, individual Senators had placed holds on the Paez and Berzon nominations. In order to overcome the holds and move the nominations forward, Democratic Leader Tom Daschle and then-Majority Leader Trent Lott came up with a plan to file cloture petitions -- or motions to end debate -- and move forward to a floor vote on the nominees. The motions passed overwhelmingly, filibusters were avoided, and the Senate quickly confirmed the judges. Democrats are misrepresenting the cloture votes as "filibusters."

"I certainly had some philosophical disagreements with these nominees," Senator Lott said this week, "but they were President Clinton's choices, and I worked in a bipartisan fashion with the Democratic leader because I felt they deserved up-or-down votes." "

Thanks to Melanie Kirkpatrick.

P. King

At 11:31 AM, Blogger Jon said...


Throughout the Clinton Administration, particularly when Gingrich was Speaker of the House, there were several relatively disruptive filibusters of ambassadorial and judicial nominees. Cabinet-level nominees. A certain Sen. John Ashcroft also organized a filibuster of Surgeon General David Satcher. If you asked the Republicans involved then if they regret their use of the filibuster, they'd probably say they didn't. ANd if you could have asked them then, they'd probably give a more emphatic 'no', with an addendum about the filibuster's value to the Senate as the body of slow deliberation (as opposed to the regular legislative hustle and bustle of the House).

At 11:34 AM, Blogger Jon said...

As an aside, contemporary Republicans have tended to use the filibuster more to stymie acts of legislation than to block executive nominees - the latter of which are of course generally expected to be treated with more courtesy.

At 12:02 PM, Blogger Jon said...

PPS (sorry) - I meant to delete "Cabinet-level nominees" - sorry. Also, a good, balanced treatment of the filibuster debate can be found at:

Hope this is helpful.


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