Friday, November 12, 2004

A divider, not a uniter

That's U.S. Sen. Bill Frist, R-Tenn., who today threatened to use his position as Senate majority leader to change Senate rules if Democrats don't lie down and let President Bush's judicial nominees roll to confirmation.

In an utter rejection of bipartisanship and comity, Frist warned that if Democrats filibustered some of Bush's nominees, he would consider a move to change Senate rules to allow filibusters to be ended by a majority vote (51 of 100) rather than the three-fifths vote (60 of 100) that has been required since 1975. Before then, it took a two-thirds vote (67 of 100) to end debate. (Political nerds can read about the history of the filibuster here.)

Before everyone gets carried away, let's note that of Bush's more than 210 appointments to federal courts in the last four years, the Senate has used a filibuster threat to block only 10 of them. It's not like Democrats are maliciously forcing hundreds of judicial vacancies to remain unfilled. Members of minority parties have long used the threat of filibuster to weed out Cabinet or judicial appointments they felt were unacceptable, and Republicans were just as guilty of that tactic when they were in the minority a few years back as the Democrats are now.

The filibuster is one of the only tools that a minority party has left to prevent the majority from running roughshod over it, and we shouldn't sacrifice a democratic tool that has proved beneficial to both sides over the years just so Republicans can get rubber-
stamps on a few more judge appointments. GOP leaders, especially Frist, would be wise to remember that history shows they won't be in charge forever, and the Golden Rule is still in effect.


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