Wednesday, January 26, 2005

The "nuclear option"

The lastest CULTURE & COSMOS

January 25, 2005

Showdown on Judicial Nominations Set for February

Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist is set to deploy the "nuclear option" of disallowing the filibuster if Democrats try to once again block President Bush's judicial nominees when they are brought to the floor again in mid to late February according to a former high-ranking aid to the senator.

Manuel Miranda, Chairman of the Ethics in Nominations Project and Frist's former legal counsel, explained the likely scenario in an interview with Culture & Cosmos. "Frist will bring up a nominee and debate the nominee for a period of days. At the end he will call for a vote and the Democrats will be aiming to filibuster the nominee. At that point he will ask for a parliamentary point of order to determine whether the filibuster rule was intended to include judicial nominations. The chair will give a ruling and assuming that the senator has 51 votes to support that ruling it will become rule of the senate."

Miranda said the importance of doing away with the judicial filibuster lies in the upcoming battles over Supreme Court nominees. "What this is all about of course is not just to get particular appellate court nominees confirmed but the fight is really all about making sure the Democrats do not have the ability to filibuster a Supreme Court nominee. And making sure the president does not feel like he has to nominate a lesser candidate," he said. Supreme Court watchers believe that as many as four justices will retire during Bush's second term.

In the last Congress, Senate Democrats used the filibuster to prevent confirmation votes on 10 of Bush's nominations for the federal bench. Using the filibuster to prevent votes on judicial nominations is unprecedented in the Senate's history and provoked outrage from conservatives who made opposition to judicial filibusters a campaign issue in the last round of elections.

The Senate has traditionally required 60 votes to force a vote on judicial nominations. But Miranda said that on the opening day of the Senate Frist began to lay the groundwork for doing away with the rule. "He said he 'reserved and did not acquiesce to the existing rules of the senate.'" That means, according to Miranda, that as soon as Democrats threaten to filibuster a judicial nominee Frist can ask for a change of rules from the presiding officer of the Senate, most likely Vice-President Dick Cheney.

Miranda stressed that social conservatives should not wait until the president nominates someone for the Supreme Court before making their voices heard. "What the community really needs to focus on and dedicate some resources to are the fights that are occurring prior to the nomination like the fight to end the filibuster. And
to do as much as possible to make sure this president is emboldened to nominate a really good nominee. Though we trust this president we really need to do everything we can to strengthen his hand and the hand of the Senate."

Miranda said that even though Republicans control 55 seats in the Senate, some GOP Senators have indicated they may not support changing the filibuster rule. Social conservatives, he said, who are constituents of those senators should make sure their support for ending the filibuster is known. Republican senators showing resistance to the rule change include Jim Bunning, Kentucky; Lincoln Chafee, Rhode Island; Susan Collins, Maine; Pete Dominci, New Mexico; Chuck Hagel, Nebraska; John McCain, Arizona; Olympia Snowe, Maine; and John Warner, Virginia.

Copyright 2005---Culture of Life Foundation.

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