Nuking the Filibuster
The golden chalice of American ideologues is to load the Supreme Court with appointees that adhere to the same principles and beliefs as the ideologues themselves. Only the president can make a Supreme Court nomination. The Senate must approve that nomination. The approval does not even require a majority vote because if the vote splits 50/50, the vice-president gets to cast the tie-breaking vote. If there is a single soul in the United States, or anywhere else in the world, who thinks Cheney would vote against a Bush appointee for Supreme Court, hold up your hand – uhmmm – people who work for FOX or Rupert Murdock don’t count.
Now consider: A) In the last election, millions more people voted for Democratic Senators than voted for Republican Senators. As we all know though, senators are not elected by nationwide popular vote but by statewide popular vote, thus it is possible to have a majority of one party controlling the senate that actually represents a minority of people. Such is the case with the present Senate.
And consider B) All rulings made by the Supreme Court apply to all the people all the time. As they demonstrated in the 2000 election, they can even dictate who becomes president. Considering that once they are on the court, they are on there for life and considering the power that they wield, this is not a decision to be made lightly.
So given A and B above, the only choice the minority Democratic Senators have is to do what every minority party in the Senate has done for two hundred years – filibuster – the means of last resort to reach a reasonable compromise with the majority party. The NeoCons however, lead by Bush, Rove and Cheney, are not willing to compromise. Like a bully on a school yard, everything must be their way so they’ve come up with what has become known as the “nuclear option.”
A filibuster, originally implemented to protect minority rights and to promote compromise, works like this: If at least 41 senators strongly oppose a bill or a nominee, they can vote to continue debate indefinitely, and so, block a final vote. A final vote can be taken if 60 senators vote to end the filibuster. Since there are 100 senators, these two options are mutually exclusive.
In actual practice, what this means is that instead of 51 votes to confirm a nominee, 60 votes might be needed if the nominee is too far out of the mainstream. This has worked well for 200 years. Our leaders have supported the filibuster tradition to promote cooperation and compromise. It is a tradition that recognizes that the Senate majority doesn’t always represent the majority of Americans.
The so-called “nuclear option,” on the other hand, is a radical tactic thought up by the NeoCons to ensure the confirmation of extremist judicial nominees that agree with their ideology by prohibiting senators from using filibusters to force a compromise. Republicans have already taken the first step in the “nuclear option.” Bush reappointed 12 nominees for federal judgeships that were previously rejected for these posts by the Senate as unfit.
The rest of the trap will be sprung something like this: A Republican Senator will try to force a confirmation vote on one of these nominees – probably the most right wingnut of them all, undoubtedly provoking a filibuster by the minority. A Republican Senator will then object. He will claim that a filibuster cannot be used on a judicial nominee. Who ever is presiding over the Senate, probably Vice President Cheney, will rule in favor of the Republican majority. This would most likely be followed by an appeal to the full Senate. A 50/50 split would be enough for the republicans to win because Cheney would cast a tie-breaking vote. The ruling would then be upheld and the filibuster against judicial nominees would be history.
Is this legal and proper? Sort of .... The procedure followed is proper but followed for an improper reason. According to Senate rules, it takes 67 senators to end debate on changing a Senate rule. This procedure violates that rule by changing a rule requiring only 50 “yes” votes from the senate. The Democrats would have few options though. They could appeal to the Supreme Court (the same court that “elected” Bush in 2000) or they could stonewall every piece of business that came before the senate causing a “nuclear winter” in government. Either way, the school yard bullies will have gotten what they wanted with no thought for the future consequences.
------Oddly enough, just as I was writing that last line, I received notice that the senate had voted to open the Alaska Wildlife Refuge for oil drilling – talk about no thought for future consequences ....