Tuesday, May 03, 2005

Notes on the "Unprecedented" Filibuster

I have been debating this point on and off for a couple of weeks with friends. Looks like the AP has finally noticed that the talking points that both Republicans and Democrats are making don't quite square with the facts:

Time was, Republicans buried Bill Clinton's judicial picks by the dozen in the Senate Judiciary Committee and Democrats indignantly demanded a yes-or-no vote for each. That was then.

This is now, when Democrats block a far smaller number of President Bush's court nominees -- and Republicans heatedly insist the Constitution itself requires a vote.

"Give them a vote. A vote up or down," Republican Sen. Orrin Hatch of Utah said recently, speaking of seven appeals court nominees Democrats have vowed to block. "That's what we've always done for 214 years before this president became president."

Except for more than 60 nominees whose names Clinton sent to the Senate between 1995 and 2000.

Republicans didn't resort to filibusters in many of those cases. They didn't need to.

They controlled the levers of Senate power at the time, and simply refused to schedule action on the nominations they opposed. Hatch, a former chairman of the Judiciary Committee, played a pivotal role in the blockade.

Inconsistency is hardly a Republican-only trait.

"According to the U.S. Constitution, the president nominates, and the Senate shall provide advice and consent," Sen. Barbara Boxer, D-Calif., said in 1997.

"It is not the role of the Senate to obstruct the process and prevent numbers of highly qualified nominees from even being given the opportunity for a vote on the Senate floor," said Boxer, who supported a move in 1995 to ease the filibuster rule.

Except that she joined other Democrats in successfully filibustering 10 of Bush's first-term appeals court candidates. Bush has renominated seven of the 10, and they are at the core of the current struggle over rules governing judicial confirmation.
I have not posted on this because I find it hard to get too excited about what seems to be an obvious fact of politics. Politicians do and say what they need to get their agendas implemented and it doesn't always match what they did or said previously when the situation was reversed. Not particularly admirable, but hardly surprising.

But I am rather annoyed that conservatives, who don't have political carreers to think about, have bought into the Constitutional meme and are even pretending that the Democrats are being somehow particularly unprincipled in the present circumstance. It may be good for the country to abolish the 60 vote rule for ending a filibuster; I don't really know. But it is hardly a moral concern and it is certainly well within conservative principles to allow it to stand. I may have more to say about this later.

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