Skip to comments.Republicans Plan To End Cherished Political Tradition Of The Filibuster
Posted on 04/09/2005 9:12:17 PM PDT by blam
Republicans plan to end cherished political tradition of the filibuster
By Philip Sherwell in Washington
Republican Senate leaders are planning to curb the cherished American political tradition of the filibuster in an effort to prevent the minority Democrats from using the tactic to block the appointment of conservative judges.
The furore over the case of Terri Schiavo, the brain-damaged Florida woman who died last month after state and federal courts refused appeals from her parents for her feeding tube to be reinstalled, has given fresh momentum to the campaign by powerful Republicans to challenge the judiciary.
The showdown over the filibuster - a two-centuries-old Senate rule that in effect allows just 41 of the 100 members to obstruct legislation and nominations by talking for as long as they can - is developing into the biggest political clash of President George W. Bush's second term.
Democrats have condemned what has widely been described as the "nuclear option" of rewriting the rules on filibustering and are threatening to retaliate by bringing Senate business to a standstill through a series of other delaying procedures.
Used alongside other tactics such as inviting questions while holding the floor, the filibuster has long been a potent weapon of obstruction in US legislative battles. The right of senators to unlimited debating time dates to the second Congress in 1791. The name filibuster originally referred to the French term for buccaneers in the Caribbean.
The longest filibuster was staged by Strom Thurmond of South Carolina, who held forth for 24 hours and 18 minutes in an unsuccessful attempt to block the 1957 Civil Rights Act, only surrendering the floor after his doctor warned him that he risked imminent kidney failure.
Under the rules filibusters must remain standing, cannot lean on the podium or take toilet breaks. Prior to his record-breaking filibuster, Mr Thurmond dehydrated himself in a sauna to delay the call of nature. Filibusters can also choose to "tag-team", speaking as long as possible before yielding the floor to a colleague.
There is no need for a filibustering speech to bear any relevance to the issue the Senate is supposed to be discussing. In the 1930s Senator Huey Long of Louisiana famously used to extol the virtues of fried oysters and recite Shakespeare while opposing legislation that he claimed favoured the rich over the poor.
Among Americans, perhaps the best-known filibuster was the fictional 23-hour speech in Mr Smith Goes to Washington in which the young Senator Jefferson Smith, played by James Stewart, takes on his corrupt and powerful peers.
The filibuster now looms as a potential weapon in the confrontation between conservatives and liberals over President Bush's judicial nominations, which are seen as the key political battleground in what both sides refer to as America's "culture wars".
The immediate conflict is over nominations to federal appeals courts - 10 of the 52 names that Mr Bush put forward during his first term were blocked by filibusters or the threat of one.
The President has resubmitted seven of the rejected 10 to Congress in a signal that he is not willing to compromise on his choices. Democrats claim that the nominees are radical conservatives determined to impose their social agenda on issues such as abortion and gay marriage. Supporters of the nominees say they are well-qualified justices who oppose the sort of so-called judicial "activism" that allowed the courts to establish abortion rights in the first place.
The stakes, however, are expected to escalate because up to three of the nine Supreme Court justices are expected to be replaced during Mr Bush's second four-year term. The separation of powers between the executive, legislature and judiciary gives senior judges considerable clout, meaning that appointments are often hotly contested.
The rules governing the use of the filibuster are complex. Republicans control 55 of the 100 Senate seats, enough for the straight majority required to approve Mr Bush's judicial nominees if they are able to reach a vote.
A filibustering operation can prevent the vote going ahead, however, unless a separate majority of 60 out of the 100 senators votes that the filibuster should not be allowed.
Unable to muster the required figure of 60, Republicans now want to scrap the filibuster option by amending the Senate rules. Plans to do so have been drawn up by Senator Bill Frist, the Republican majority leader expected to run for his party's presidential nomination in 2008.
Conservative and liberal pressure groups have brought their money and power to the opposing sides. On the right, delivering a new tranche of conservative judges is seen as payback to conservative lobbyists for their success in turning out voters for Mr Bush and Republican senators last November.
The poisonous mood in Washington deepened last week when Tom DeLay, the Republican leader in the House of Representatives, the lower chamber, accused federal courts of "running amok" in a speech to a conference entitled Confronting the Judicial War on Faith. Mr DeLay, who has led the condemnation of the courts over the Terri Schiavo case, added: "Judicial independence does not equal judicial supremacy."
The pro-Democrat grouping, People for the American Way, has countered with a series of prime-time television commercials defending the role of the filibuster as an important part of the system of checks and balances that America's founders created to rein in the power of the majority party.
After the Republican attacks on the courts over the Schiavo case, the Democrat minority says it is defending the judiciary against political interference and intimidation. "If they don't get what they want, they attack whoever is around," said Senator Harry Reid, the leader of the Democrat minority. "Now they're after the courts. I think it goes back to this arrogance of power."
The rancour over nominations on Capitol Hill goes beyond new justices. Democrats plan to mount a strong challenge tomorrow when confirmation hearings begin for John Bolton, the hawkish number three at the State Department whom Mr Bush wants to be the next ambassador at the United Nations.
I love my country's version of Democracy.
A system of checks of balances that puts other nations to shame.
Now, do our reps have the guts to push for a show down? I sincerely hope so.
I wish they did trash the whole (unconstitutional) filibuster, but I thought the plan was just to dump its use for judicial appointments. The "tradition" of filibustering those goes back 4 years.
I thought Bolton was confirmed
That's what I thought, too. Nothing is stopping traditional "cherished" legislative filibusters, but the Dems know they can make the public think that's what's happening.
Correct me if I am wrong but I thought the idea was to eliminate filibustering ONLY on appointments? The aticle seems to imply that all filibustering will be eliminated.
BTW I am in favor of filibustering (not on appoinments) because it eliminates what John Stuart Mills called the "tyranny of the majority".
Good on our side! A lot of "traditions" need to be re-examined. Watch the libs cry and cry!
I'd like to see them go back to the original filibuster. Hold the floor of the Senate personally, none of this wimpy "gentleman's agreement" hogwash.
Of course the Republican's don't have the stones to push it back to that level, because then when it's their turn for the fundraising letters to plead "help us get back in charge" they'd have to have some Senators with the fortitude to stand up.
...the filibuster - a two-centuries-old Senate rule that in effect allows just 41 of the 100 members to obstruct legislation and nominations by talking as long as they can..."
And just how does this relate the what the f'head dems are doing by requiring 60 votes to stop a laugh called filibuster invoked by words only. They are NOT 'talking as long as they can'.
I would love to see "Sheets" Byrd get up and babble for the LAST three hours of his sickening life! May he rot in hell!
I wonder if this writer is really as ignorant and uninformed as he seems to be or if he is increbibly biased? This is merry old England's paper, is it not?
This is news to me. More likely, it's a gross exaggeration by the author.
Rehnquist is likely to be replaced and maybe O'Conner. So at best, we can replace a conservative and a moderate with two conservatives. But that still leaves 4 unabashed scumbags plus one wild card (Anthony Kennedy).
A meaningful return to respect for the Constitution and the rule of law will only begin when a scumbag gets replaced by a conservative. And I have a funny feeling that the scumbags will not leave the Court until there's a scumbag President to appoint their replacements.
The Telegraph is actually the "conservative" British daily.
The fillibuster has become a tool of tyranny, a tool to obstruct a functional, representative government -- let it be gone. But I would not bet my life on the Repubs making it happen.
While the left continues to destroy this country through the use and placement of their minions (judicial mainly) to operate outside the law and assigned duty, the Repubs are STILL JUST TALKING!!!
They no longer have to actually talk, they just have to threaten to do so. The House once had such a filibuster rule, it was eliminated after less than a single century as being too condusive to obstructionism.
Futhermore, as I understand it, the Senate would only eliminate the filibuster when performing their duty to advise and consent on Presidential appointments, perhaps only on those to the Judiciary. Filibusters would still be possible on legislation.
This is insane!
We cannot, simply cannot terminate filibusters. I understand they are bad for our side these days as Democrats are likely to use them to block Republican legislation.
Nevertheless, we must keep in mind that Congress whether it is controlled by Republicans or Democrats, remains a part of government. Government cannot be trusted and our democratic system is meant to be slow and often inefficient.
Furthermore, what will happen if Democrats take back control of the Senate either next year or in '08?
It seems our Republican elected officials have become drunk with power.
ping for the a.m.