Dayton v. Kennedy

Returning Senator Mark Dayton to the Ranks of the Idle Rich in 2006

12/28/2004

Nuclear Option Not Nuclear?

DvK has lurched uncontrollably from calling the ending of judicial filibusters the 'nuclear option' to the 'constitutional option' -- and back again.

Here David Limbaugh makes the case in today's Townhall.com column that the 'nuclear option' is decidedly conventional:

The Constitution empowers the president to appoint judges with the advice and consent of the Senate. The advice and consent power was never intended to confer co-equal power on the Senate over judicial (and other) nominations. Rather, it was designed to provide a legislative check to reduce the risk that the president would appoint unqualified judges or those with poor character.

The Constitution also empowers the Senate to make its own rules. Rule XXII provides that upon the filing of a petition for cloture (to end further debate), "three-fifths of the senators duly chosen and sworn" must vote to close the debate.

When 41 or more senators work in concert to forestall cloture, it is known as filibustering. The mere act of filibustering, by definition, is designed to thwart the will of the Senate majority. But, on the other hand, the majority of the Senate retains the power to change its own rules. So, at any time the Senate could, prospectively, change its rules on vote cloture altogether, or only as to certain types of votes.

Presently, the Republican Senate majority is contemplating a measure to change the rules on vote cloture only respecting the president's judicial nominations. This measure, Senate Resolution 138, should not be considered a power grab by the majority, but a necessary corrective measure to remedy the Democrat minority's unprecedented abuse of power over the president's judicial appointments.

The resolution is hardly radical in its scope or application. It would provide for a declining series of votes to end debate on judicial appointments. The first motion for cloture would still require a three-fifths vote, and the second and third attempts would require 57 and 54 votes, respectively, with all attempts thereafter requiring a simple majority.

Obviously, the resolution is not designed to cavalierly end thorough debate on the fitness of any judicial nominee, but would guarantee that the will of the Senate majority would eventually prevail.

Some have argued that this would be an extreme "nuclear option" that Republicans will exercise at their peril. The practice of filibustering, after all, has been around for years, and the Republicans shouldn't be so cocky as to replace it because they control the legislative and executive branches.

Not so fast. While filibustering has been around for years, it has rarely been used by a Senate minority to thwart the president's judicial appointment power. But President Bush has had at least seven of his judicial appointments blocked without a full vote of the Senate.

Up until this president's tenure, there was an understanding that Senate minorities wouldn't filibuster his judicial nominees, because to do so, in effect, upsets the Constitution's prescribed separation of powers -- one of the most important bulwarks in the Constitution designed to limit government by preventing any one branch from gaining too much power.

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