May 18, 2005
Are they finally going through with it? The sight of Bill Frist, Orrin Hatch, and others on the Senate floor speaking in favor of Judge Janice Brown was quite a relief. Frankly, I'm getting tired of hearing all the dire reports about the impending Senate vote to change the rules so as to put an end to judicial filibusters. Sen. Frist has been making thinly veiled threats for many months, and still nothing has happened. Just do it! The "nuclear" analogy calls to mind World War III movies with soldiers in missile silos with launch keys at the ready, which is misleadingly apocalyptic. Republicans are calling it the "constitutional" option, meaning that the proposed rules change will do nothing more than return Senate practice to the way it used to be. Both houses of Congress have made major rule changes from time to time over the decades, and the world did not come to an end. Senator Reid's reference to the proposed change as "illegal" was way off base, since Article 1, Section 5, Clause 2 of the U.S. Constitution states:
Each House may determine the Rules of its Proceedings, punish its Members for disorderly Behaviour, and, with the Concurrence of two thirds, expel a Member.
Got it? There are no requirements for super-majorities to change internal procedural rules, and the situations in which super-majorities are required are clearly stated. Presumably there are still one or two moderate senators (most notably, Sen. John Warner from Virginia) who are sitting on the proverbial fence. Today's Washington Post outlines a "A Likely Script for the 'Nuclear Option'." Someone may yet come up with a clever procedural resolution, possibly involving a postponement of the rules change so as to avoid setting a precedent for an abuse of rule-writing by future Senate majorities. If so, it had better be iron-clad. The Democrats must be held accountable for their irresponsible abuse of minority prerogatives.
Political "train wrecks" such as these are usually the result of the two sides having sharply different perceptions of reality, which makes the leaders of each side prone to think that the other side will eventually come to their senses and compromise. When I heard one of the Democrats talking about one of the judicial nominees as being "extreme" and "outside the mainstream" today, it only reinforced my conviction that compromise at this late date would be utterly futile. To my mind, judges who rule that the Pledge of Allegiance is unconstitutional are extreme, but that's just me. Arguing in general terms about who is really "extreme," and who is not, is a waste of time. For a factual background, plus a list of some myths often promulgated by Democrats and their allies in the mainstream media, see judicialselection.org.
So what will the consquences be if Majority Leader Frist gets his way with the rules change? Given the heated state of mind exhibited by many Democrats, one can't exclude the possibility of screaming, paper-throwing, or walkouts. That is another situation in which the above-cited clause from the Constitution would apply. There will no doubt be demonstrations from MoveOn, etc. staging rallies bemoaning the "death of democracy" in America. Violence cannot be discounted. If the Republicans let fear of what their adversaries might do, however, they will never accomplish anything. Eventually, I hope and expect, a substantial number of Democrats will learn to work with Republicans in a constructive fashion, at which point the moderate Republicans will regain greater influence in the party. Other Democrats, the ones who follow Al Gore and Howard Dean, may indulge in fantasies of building an underground "resistance movement." Anything is possible, and this country is in dire need of guidance. Let us pray.