International House of Dan: Save the Filibuster, Plant a Tree

Friday, April 29, 2005

Save the Filibuster, Plant a Tree

I've remained silent on this issue for some time (or any issue, for that matter) hoping it would blow over, but it has not. Harry Reid should not accept the so-called Republican compromise for the simple reason that it is less compromise and more Republican victory, a full and unconditional surrender to the whims of the 51%. I don't care if Bill Frist proposes capping the debate at a 100 hours or 1,000 hours, because neither does he. It is incredibly foolish in this era of extreme partisanship to believe that Republican Senators will not confirm Mr. Bush's most controversial nominees because of something they heard Democrats say during debate. It makes no difference how many hours we devote to debate if the decision has been made in advance and the debate is merely a dog and pony show.

Upon hearing the majority speak, one might think that Democrats are unreasonable denying all of Mr. Bush's perfectly qualified nominees "an up and down vote." In reality, Democrats have used the filibuster in only 10 of over 200 confirmations, less than 5% of them, they are objecting mostly to those nominees who are most objectionable. To believe the Republicans is to overlook the fact that much of the current fracas arises from Mr. Bush's re-submission of 7 of the 10 rejected nominees: what kind of hubris does it take to accuse the minority of "obstructionist tactics" because they are trying to prevent the confirmation of judges that they've already rejected? These nominees may not have had an "up and down vote" but neither does the candidate who loses a primary, they were rejected outright. The majority, and especially Mr. Bush, needs to understand that bipartisanship does not mean that the Democrats should sit quietly in the corner while Republicans run roughshod over the Constitution. Roe vs. Wade is the law of the land, and the only "activist judges" out there are the Bush nominees who would "legislate from the bench" in order to undo it.

These are lifetime appointments to the bench, and Democrats are right to scrutinize them. No matter what Republicans say, there is nothing unconstitutional about the filibuster of judicial nominees, as the Senate sets its own rules and has changed them in the past with regard to both filibusters and nomination procedures. The filibuster is no less legitimate a political tactic for a minority to block an objectionable nomination than it is for a weak majority to break a Senate deadlock by using the Vice President's vote.

In March of 2003, Senator Leahy addressed many of the Republican myths about the filibuster. Most prevalent among these is the notion that the use of filibuster during judicial nominations is unprecedented. To this, Mr. Leahy said:
Republicans have claimed that this debate was unprecedented. That is false. Republicans not only filibustered the Supreme Court nomination of Abe Fortas, they filibustered the nominations of Judge Stephen Breyer, Judge Rosemary Barkett, Judge H. Lee Sarokin, Judge Richard Paez and Judge Marsha Berzon, among others. The truth is that filibusters on nominations and legislative matters and extended debate on judicial nominations, including circuit court nominations, has become more and more common through Republicans actions.
Just as Mr. Bush needs to understand that he can't make tough questions disappear by smirking at reporters, the Senate majority needs to understand that they can not make the record favorable to their cause by simply pretending things happened differently. Sadly, though, in today's America, some voters do forget the tough question facing the President when he smirks, and they just take the majority's word for it when they lie about the recent past...

Leahy's comments came during the first cloture vote for Miguel Estrada, one of those "minorities" Mr. Bush likes to nominate in the interest of diversity. I'll end by expressing my amusement at Republican claims that nominees are being objected to on gender or racial grounds. I don't know where Mr. Bush finds women and minorities that share his views, but I sincerely hope we can all agree that Estrada's nomination was withdrawn after six failed cloture votes not because he is hispanic, but because he is a fascist.

Race in politics is less an anthropological classification as an ideological one. This is why we can say that Bill Clinton was the first black president, and why we don't say Strom Thurmond was fine with interracial relationships because he used to sleep with his slaves. When we speak of "hispanic voters" we do not refer merely to voters who are hispanic, rather we allude to an additional set of criteria, such as views on immigration, and English as the official language; to put it another way, in politics there is more to one's race than one's race: does anybody seriously feel comfortable saying that Michael Jackson is black? Miguel Estrada was born in Honduras, but he is about as hispanic as Condi Rice is black: only on the outside, which is the prefect amount for an administration that was elected on slogans and imagery rather than substance and ideas.

In other news, the President planted a chestnut tree today in honor of Arbor Day. His message: "plant trees -- it's good for the economy and it's good for the environment. For more information on how planting trees benefits the economy check out the Natural Resources Defense Council's take on Bush's measures to increase logging...


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