They Could Do It All Night Long

A storm is brewing in Washington, D.C. , and it has nothing to do with Tom DeLay’s corruption or President Bush lecturing of Vladimir Putin on democracy. Rather, it is cause of the potential use of the “nuclear option” in dealing with the filibuster. Senate Republicans contend that Democrats have abused the device to prevent President Bush’s judicial nominees from being confirmed. Not only are these Republicans wrong, and not only are they hypocritical, but eliminating the filibuster would likely have dangerous long-term effects on the American democracy. The filibuster has a long lineage in the Senate, where the rules allow a single Senator (or a group working in concert) to hold the floor for an indefinite amount of time, talking about whatever they wish (more famously, Senators have read voter-registration rolls and phone books to the assembly). Currently, it takes a 60-vote majority to end debate (i.e. end the in-progress filibuster). Republicans are threatening with multiple options: requiring only 50 senators to end debate, eliminating the filibuster for judicial nominees, or possibly eliminating the filibuster altogether. When President Bush came into office in 2000, he, as every president must do, nominated judges to fill open spots on the federal bench. And, like most Senates, our current one has confirmed the vast majority of the candidates (well north of 200 at last count). However, there has been a concerted action by the Democrats to prevent 10 nominees from making it into a lifetime position of great influence. Republicans have decried this action, screaming about how it has stalled the process and landed these ten judges in limbo. What these Republicans fail to understand is that the Democrats are using the filibuster in exactly the way that it was intended to be used: to prevent a small minority (the 10 judges) from permanently influencing the majority of American people with reactionary decisions issued from the judges’ lifetime positions. What these Republicans also seem to forget is that they were even worse during the Clinton administration. Senate Republicans prevented 60 nominees from ever having a hearing in front of the Senate Judiciary Committee, much less ever making to the Senate floor. When this hypocrisy is pointed out, Republicans seem to be at a loss for words. On Face The Nation, Bill Frist, Senate Majority Leader and the man leading the charge to abolish the filibuster, was questioned about his own vote to filibuster a judicial nominee. His response, weak at best, was “Filibuster, cloture, it gets confusing–as a scheduling or to get more information [it] is legitimate. But no[t] to kill nominees.” Unless the Republicans have had a genuine change in heart, five years after the fact, which I somehow doubt, then they have no place in criticizing Democratic Senators for employing the filibuster. This brings us to the larger issue: why are Democrats filibustering these nominees anyway? As Melody Barnes, a Senior Fellow at the Center For American Progress put it, “It isn’t that they are conservatives; it’s that their records indicate a willingness to bypass the law to achieve an ideologically driven result.” Let’s consider some of the Bush nominees to the Federal Court: Terrence Boyle, nominated to the 4th Circuit Court of Appeals, has had his decisions overturned over 150 times by higher courts, and has been consistently extreme in cases involving civil or disability rights; Thomas B. Griffin, nominated to the D.C. Court of Appeals, failed to maintain a law license in Washington, D.C. while he practiced there, and, according to the Washington Post, at least six out of 15 members on the American Bar Association’s review board voted that Griffin was “not qualified” for the bench. William Haynes, nominated to the 4th Circuit Court of Appeals, served as an attorney for the Department of Defense where he was one of the principal architects of the policy that led to the torture scandals at Abu Ghraib prison in Iraq and Guantanamo Bay in Cuba; additionally, nominees Brett Kavanaugh and William G. Myers have never been judges and neither has ever been in a jury trial. What is clear from these judges is that Democrats are not blocking them without reason. Bill Frist has been consolidating ranks and solidifying the Republican position on the issue of eliminating the filibuster. However, the idea that the current Republican majority could ream through whatever judges or legislation it wants is scary, especially considering that the Supreme Court will have multiple openings in the next five years. George W. Bush will want to stack the court with ultra-right-wing judges, and that should not be allowed to happen.