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Friday, December 3, 2004

Bust the Filibustering

Now that the current election cycle has come and gone, what are the talk shows going to talk about? What are Rush, Hannity, Al Franken, and Michael Moore going to do with their time? What are editors going to editorialize about? I believe one of the more interesting things to watch politically for the next several months will be the battle over the federal judiciary that will take place in the U.S. Senate.

There has been much talk lately concerning the process of approving federal judges. The president nominates judges at the federal level, and the senate must approve them (by a simple majority). As has been frequently noted in the media recently, democrats in the senate have been filibustering some of the nominees, not allowing them to come up for a vote. Republicans, with a slight majority in the senate, have had the necessary votes for approval, so the democrats see this as their only method to keep certain judges off the bench.

Republicans have been unable to muster the 60 votes necessary to break the filibuster, so they have been at the mercy of the democrats when it has come to particular judicial nominees. However, the dynamics of the recent election may bring an end to this filibustering.

I don’t think the fact that Bush won the election, with a majority of the popular vote, is the most significant factor in sending a message to democrats in the senate. I think it helps, but I think the fact that republicans gained four seats in the senate, and defeated Tom Daschele (the minority leader and chief architect of their policy of blocking judicial nominees) in the process sends the most powerful message to democrats. That message is: democratic senators from largely conservative states, as Daschele was, may not want to find themselves labeled as Daschele was—a liberal and an obstructionist.

The republican gains still give them only 55 senate seats—not enough to overcome a filibuster. The measures they take to combat the filibustering will be very fascinating to watch.

President Bush won 31 states in his successful reelection bid. These states represent 62 senate seats. In addition, there are nine current republican senators from states the president lost. That means, of the 55 republican senators, 46 are from states he won. Therefore, there are 16 senators that are democratic but are from states that Bush won. Five of these won in this past election, so that leaves 11 as targets to pressure to stop the filibustering.

Five of these 11 will be up for reelection in 2006, so they will be the ones really feeling the heat. They are: Nelson (FL), Conrad (ND), Nelson (NE), Bingaman (NM), and Byrd (WV). Not all of these represent states won soundly by Bush, but the senators from Nebraska and North Dakota will probably especially take note of what happened to Senator Daschele. The remaining six, up for reelection in 2008, are from AK, IA, LA, MT, SD, and WV. So, most of these 11 are from states that went solidly for Bush. It would appear that the president might find it a little easier to get the 60 votes it seems he now needs to get his judges approved.

However, there are other factors to examine. Some of the nine republican senators that are from states Bush lost are not solidly behind his agenda. Republican Lincoln Chafee (RI) reportedly didn’t even vote for George W. Bush. In protest of some of the current Bush’s policies, he said he would cast his vote for George Bush I. Nevertheless, when it came to judicial nominees these nine always backed the president.

Also, it may not be easy to sway voters in certain states based solely on how their senator voted in the judicial nomination process. What they’ve done for their state will weigh heavily. However, the defeat of Daschele almost assuredly emboldens republicans when it comes to their efforts to defeat democrats in solidly red states.

There is still another option open to republicans. If they are unable to sway enough democrats to their side they can invoke what has been called the “nuclear” option. Under this procedure, the senate's presiding officer, Vice President Cheney, would find that a supermajority to end filibusters is unconstitutional for judicial nominees. Democrats would certainly challenge this ruling. But it takes only a simple majority—or 51 votes from the senate GOP's new 55-vote majority—to sustain a ruling of the chair. This is a rarely used maneuver and has explosive potential, hence the “nuclear” tag.

Whatever method the republicans use to push through Bush’s judicial nominees, the political intrigue should be high. Stay tuned.

Copyright 2015, Trevor Grant Thomas
At the Intersection of Politics, Science, Faith, and Reason.
Trevor and his wife Michelle are the authors of: Debt Free Living in a Debt Filled World

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