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March 19, 2005

Why Filibusters Should Be Allowed

George F. Will wrote a lengthy editorial on filibusters. If you've questioning whether or not Republicans should press to eliminate the filibuster possibility, it may make for good reading. Here are some excerpts:

With Republicans inclined to change Senate rules to make filibusters of judicial nominees impossible, Democrats have recklessly given Republicans an additional incentive to do so. It is a redundant incentive, because Republicans think -- mistakenly -- that they have sufficient constitutional reasons for doing so.

Today 60 Senate votes are required to end a filibuster. There are 55 Republican senators but not five Democrats who will join them. Republicans may seek a ruling from the chair -- Vice President Cheney presiding -- that filibustering judicial nominees is impermissible, a ruling that a simple majority of senators could enforce.

Pretty interesting. Though you've got to wonder why Will thinks that following the procedure of law would result in something unconstitutional; it doesn't seem to me that he ever gets to that. The way he stated the case above, it seems that our system has been designed to allow a "ruling from the chair" with the support of the majority.

Some conservatives oddly seem to regret the fact that the government bristles with delaying and blocking mechanisms -- separation of powers, bicameral legislature, etc. The filibuster is one such mechanism -- an instrument for minority assertion. It enables democracy to be more than government-by-adding-machine, more than a mere counter of numbers. The filibuster registers intensity, enabling intense minorities to slow or stop government.

Good point, George. Not only does it tend to conserve the type of government we currently have (restricts change), but it protects minority interests - nearly always a good thing.

And pruning the filibuster in the name of majority rule would sharpen the shears that one day will be used to prune it further. If filibusters of judicial nominations are impermissible, why not those of all nominations -- and of treaties, too? Have conservatives forgotten how intensely they once opposed some treaties pertaining to arms control and to the Panama Canal?

As one who is often accused of being conservative myself, I find myself in favor of conserving the ability to filibuster. Remember what happened to chief Democratic obstructionist Tom Daschle?

Tom Daschle - Fired!

He was fired for his obstructionism. Let the voters and the fear of the voters compel their representatives to filibuster, or not.

The Senate's institutional paralysis over judicial confirmations is a political problem for which there is a political solution: 60 Republican senators. The president believes that Democratic obstruction of judicial nominees contributed to Republican gains in 2002 and 2004. In 2006, 17 of the Democrats' seats and that of Sen. James Jeffords of Vermont, their collaborator, are up, five of them in states the president carried in 2004.

It has been 98 years since Republicans have had 60 senators. But in the past 50 years, there were more than 60 Democratic senators after seven elections: 1958 (64), 1960 (64), 1962 (67), 1964 (68), 1966 (64), 1974 (61), 1976 (62). Republicans might reach 60 if the president devoted as much energy to denouncing obstruction of judicial nominations as he is devoting to explaining Social Security's problems. Solving those problems is important, but not as important as achieving a judiciary respectful of the Constitution.

It seems to me that many conservatives are behaving a bit vindictively over the Democratic vitriol in the 18 months prior to the presidential election. They need to stop it. Now. What made the Republicans so much more appealing than the Democrats in the last election was, I think, to a large extent their unwillingness to engage in such childishness. And that brings me to Will's final statement:

No Democratic filibuster can stop the 2006 elections. Those elections, however, might stop the Democrats' filibusters.

Posted by Jeff at March 19, 2005 01:52 AM


I'm not au fait with all of the nicities of US legaslitive protocol, but if 'filibuster(s)' are what I think they are, then is it not an abuse of parliamentary/democratic process?

Posted by: kenny at March 19, 2005 12:34 PM

Sorry. Typing like a gnu today. :(

Posted by: kenny at March 19, 2005 12:34 PM


If it is, then I do not see how. By what standard can a person make such a judgment? It seems to me that a person would rely on the standard of his or her own personal opinion of how things *should* work. If I'm right, then the standard is one's own personal values and, therefore, subjective.

It is much easier for me to see how the collective strength of a majority can be abused, than can be the relatively small power invested in a minority. At present, it is the Republican majority, acting out of spite for the Democratic filibusters which prevented the confirmation of Republican (Bush's) judicial nominees, which is attacking the ability to filibuster at all in our government. This use of majority power is stripping away power of the minority and changing our government to appease immediate, not long term, desires.

To my way of thinking, this should not be. A society's values should not be determined only by the strong.

Posted by: Jeff at March 20, 2005 02:20 AM

As a libertarian would concede however, that a society's values WILL be determined by the strong/rich/powerful.

Posted by: kenny at March 20, 2005 03:49 AM

I think, instead, that those who are concerned with liberty *will* not trample upon it. It is a matter of people's wills...what people will do, and what people will not do. Libertarians are not the cynical folk who believe that these things just happen and that there's no point in resisting. What will happen depends only upon what we will do.

Posted by: Jeff at March 20, 2005 04:51 AM

"What will happen depends only upon what we will do." ~

you don't mean that literally, do you?

Posted by: kenny at March 22, 2005 11:41 AM

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