Thursday, May 26, 2005

Judicial Filibusters

Judicial filibusters. Talk about another monster of a political issue. A judicial filibuster is a parliamentary procedure where the minority party will endlessly debate the qualifications of a judicial nominee within the Senate. In order to end a judicial filibuster, you will need 60 votes rather than a simple majority vote. In the simplest political sense, a judicial filibuster is a parliamentary procedure used by the minority party to block or oppose judicial nominees that a majority party will try to push through the Senate.

But today, we are not in the simplest terms for this filibuster.

The issue surrounding the judicial filibuster of the federal judiciary has become a high stakes poker game between the Republicans in the Senate and White House, and the Democrats in the Senate. And the prize is none other than stacking the Supreme Court with activist judges to legislate their particular political ideology. This is especially true for the Republicans rather than the Democrats, since the Republicans have gained control of both houses of Congress and the Presidency.

Stacking the court with activist judges to legislate from the bench. If you listened to the Republican Party over the last couple of weeks, they’ve attempted to tar the Democrats with this charge of judges forcing legislation reflecting elitist liberal views. Unfortunately the Republicans are also to blame for placing their own activist judges on the bench. The only difference is what type of ideology is either party trying to legislate. If the Republicans are able to push through their own hard-line conservative judges, then those judges would more than likely overturn some of the individual rights and freedoms that have been granted by the Supreme Court over the years. You could certainly kiss Roe verses Wade goodbye if the Republicans can put two hard line conservatives on the Supreme Court. Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist and President Bush are both under intense pressure by the hard-line Religious Right and the Christian evangelists to certainly stack the Supreme Court for the purpose of overturning abortion—the Religious Right have been pushing this goal for the last 30 years, and now with control of Congress, the Presidency, and an aging Supreme Court, they can almost taste it. It is all about control of all three branches of the government by hard-lined conservatives. That’s what it is all about. As an opposition party, the Democrats don’t have much of anything left to oppose this Republican takeover of the government. The judicial filibuster is one of those weapons the Democrats can wield.

But the Republicans don’t want the Democrats to use the filibuster. So for the past couple of months, Frist has been talking about doing away with the judicial filibuster on appellate court nominees so the Democrats would not be able to use it on a Supreme Court nominee. The Democrats under Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid have responded by claiming they would oppose all legislation in Congress—the so-called ‘nuclear option.’ Frist started the countdown this week by opening the debate on judicial nominee Priscilla Owen. However, on Tuesday, moderate Senators from both the Republican and Democratic side were able to fashion a compromise, where the Senate would confirm a majority of Bush’s nominees, while the Democrats could still use the judicial filibuster under extraordinary circumstances.
This is still a hollow compromise. Chief Justice William Rehnquist is battling cancer and may step down from the Court. Rehnquist is 80 years old. This opens the door to one court nominee and there are three others over the age of 65; Sandra Day O’Conner is 74, John Paul Stevens is 84, and Ruth Bader Ginsburg is 71. All three are also battling cancer. Even more important is that Stevens and Ginsburg represent a moderate-to-liberal wing of the Court, while O’Conner represents a moderate wing. A replacement of any one of these three justices with a hard-lined conservative would tilt the Court further right from its moderate stance. The Religious Right and evangelists are salivating over the replacement of any of these justices. And when an opening on the Court does occur, the Religious Right will lobby hard for a conservative justice who would overturn abortion. Both President Bush and Bill Frist would be very receptive to this lobbying group—Bush for his personal views and his presidential legacy, while Frist would be receptive as a way for the evangelists to support him for his 2008 presidential run. The Democrats under Harry Reid would not want to see abortion overturned, so they would use the judicial filibuster against any hard-lined conservative Supreme Court nominee selected by Bush. Frist would claim that these justices would deserve an up-or-down vote in the Senate of which the nominee would certainly be approved (Considering the Republicans control the Senate 55-44 with one independent). Frist would threaten to rewrite the parliamentary rules on filibusters to take out judicial filibustering. Reid would oppose all legislation moving through the Senate, effectively shutting down the Senate’s business. We would have another nuclear option.

With regards to my own opinion, I want the filibuster to occur when a Supreme Court nominee opens up. I will admit, I was a little concerned over the nuclear option during the last couple of weeks since I do not want the Republicans to pack the federal courts with hard-lined conservatives. I do not want abortion to be overturned, or to have the Religious Right legislate this country based on their moral viewpoints. I want a moderate federal and Supreme Court to tackle these tough issues, which have far reaching political and social repercussions. So in a way, I did want the Democrats to filibuster the federal judges. I knew this battle was about the Supreme Court. What I don’t think I realized is that the American public was ignorant of the views that this filibuster was about the fight for the Supreme Court. So perhaps this compromise was a blessing in disguise. Once the Supreme Court battle opens up with the filibuster and nuclear option surfacing, the American public would certainly be watching this battle with a greater interest. If Frist pushes for the elimination of the judicial filibuster, the American public could see this as a Republican abuse of power and possibly under the influence of the evangelists. This could cause problems in the 2006-midterm elections, and possibly derail Frist’s presidential ambitions by alienating moderates and independents. As for the Democrats, they don’t have anything to lose. They are the minority party in a Republican-controlled government. If the Republicans label Democrats as being obstructionists, the Democrats can label Republicans as being abusive with their power. Also with the Supreme Court fight, the Democrats can continue to reiterate that this is all about control of the Supreme Court and the fight by the Religious Right to overturn abortion. This battle is not over.

It has just begun.

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