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Loving the filibuster until it’s used against you
June 7, 2003
By Alex Sator

Slackers who never even heard of filibusters before this year, now consider themselves experts on the subject. They cry because desperate Democrats are using delay tactics to deprive their President of his God-given right to name whomever he chooses to the federal bench.

The truth is that Congress has done an unparalleled job in filling judicial vacancies. Going into last week, 124 Bush appointees had been confirmed and only two have been delayed due to filibuster. According to Article II, Section 2 of the U.S. Constitution, the Senate not only has the right, but also has the responsibility to second-guess the President on judicial appointments through the “advice and consent” clause.

The president is upset because the two filibustered candidates are his friends and long-term allies -- Miguel Estrada, because he “hit the trifecta” by being a lawyer, conservative and Hispanic, is considered a candidate to replace Chief Justice Rehnquist when he retires, and Pricilla Owen, who was both a business and political associate of the president back in Texas. The most damning analysis of her judicial acumen comes from one Alberto Gonzalez. Gonzalez was a justice on the Texas Supreme Court along with Owen and he is currently the presidential consigliere. When this man says that Owen was too political to be on the Supreme Court, and he has, then we should probably listen.

No president has the right to place his cronies on the federal bench to do his bidding without the input of the Senate. Sometimes a filibuster is an example of good government in action.

Orrin Hatch, Chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, would love to change Senate Rule XXII by implementing a sliding scale for cloture votes. These votes cut off debate on the Senate floor, and the new rule would limit the minority party’s ability to filibuster the most extreme whims of the majority. Of course, all the Senate leadership would have to do is conduct cloture vote after cloture vote in order to end debate. It would eliminate the filibuster as we have come to know it.

Hatch claims that no federal judicial nominee has ever been filibustered, but he is wrong. President Johnson’s 1968 Supreme Court nominee, Abe Fortas, was the victim of a GOP filibuster. Over 50 Clinton nominees were denied a vote on the Senate floor and many didn’t even get a hearing. How is that any different?

Rush Limbaugh frowns on revisionist history. Yet, he has been blaming the historical use of filibusters mostly on the Democrats. He makes the case that blacks are fools for voting as a block for liberals, as their best friend has been the GOP. “The idea that the Democrats are responsible for the Civil Rights Act of 1964,” Limbaugh whines, “is a myth that has been given life by the Democrats and the media for 36 years.”

It is true that 18 southern conservative Democrats helped filibuster the Civil Rights Act of 1964. But, if northern liberal Republicans were inclined to pass this act then the votes of 18 Dixiecrats wouldn’t have been enough to stop them, even though the GOP was the minority party. A large block of Republicans voted for unlimited debate. Only after the legislation was compromised did it become law, and by 1968 they were recruiting those same Dixiecrats to be a part of Nixon’s southern coalition. 40 years later, the liberal wing of the GOP is dead.

There was much historical momentum behind this legislation. Pres. Kennedy’s Justice Department, headed by his brother Bobby, made enemies by pushing hard for racial equality. Also, the notoriously liberal Warren Court made several landmark civil rights rulings.

How could Limbaugh have missed Goldwater’s opposition to the Civil Rights Act in 1964? Reagan, fought the 1982 renewal of the Voting Rights Act. After inventing Willie Horton, Bush vetoed the 1990 renewal of the Civil Rights Act. The GOP opposed welfare mothers, affirmative action, Martin Luther King Day, and the Anti-Apartheid Act. Bob Dole even filibustered the Motor Voter Act.

Republicans still argue of behalf of the Confederate Flag, and last year the Ohio GOP debated for weeks as to whether the 14th Amendment (equal protection of the law) should be ratified or not! How oblivious do they think African-Americans are anyway? Do you think anyone has noticed that there are no black Republicans in Congress?

It is amazing that conservatives would turn their back on a tool that has served them so well, and it is sad that Democrats now need that same tool in order to function. The GOP loved the filibuster, but now that it is being used against them they are appalled by it.

Democrats didn’t just fall off the turnip truck, and we will fight any changes in Senate Rule XXII, as well as any resulting power plays.

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