Supreme Court the Real Issue in Filibuster Fight

The Republican proposal to change the rules of the U.S. Senate could come to the floor for a vote this week. The new rules would eliminate the right of the minority to filibuster judicial nominees. Senior News Analyst Dan Schorr says the posturing on the issue of filibusters represents the opening round in a fight over the Supreme Court.

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DANIEL SCHORR:

These are the times that try a senator's soul.

MICHELE NORRIS, host:

NPR senior news analyst Daniel Schorr.

SCHORR: The $295 billion highway and transit bill may be the last legislating the legislators do for some time. Scheduled to start on Wednesday will be what history could record as the great battle of the filibuster, the battle that will determine whether an embattled minority can stall action by indefinite debate. It presents itself as a complicated fight over rules, starting with confirmation of judicial appointments. If the Republicans succeed in changing the rules, the Democrats threaten to use their waning power to tie up the Senate in knots. This is a no-win battle that senators of both parties would give a lot to avoid, but they are propelled by unyielding constituencies with overtones of religion and ideology.

Nominally, this is a battle over confirmation of appeals court nominees blocked by the Democrats in the last Congress. Actually, it may be the opening salvo in a momentous battle over the Supreme Court. It is common speculation that Chief Justice William Rehnquist, suffering from cancer, may retire in June at the end of the current term of the court. This is undoubtedly why Democratic Leader Harry Reid is willing to yield on permitting confirmation of one or more of the appeals court nominees as long as the filibuster stays in place for the others and for the Supreme Court.

Onetime Senate Republican Leader Howard Baker, at a Capitol Hill reception in his honor last Thursday, advised the current leader, Bill Frist, to avoid damaging the character of the Senate. And First hosted Senator Reid for dinner last night seeing if they could find a way out of a looming confrontation.

There is little doubt that Senators Frist and Reid, left to their own devices, could find a compromise, but they haven't been left to their own devices. On Wednesday, two appeals court nominations will be submitted to the Senate, and soon we should know if any agreement is possible. This is Daniel Schorr.

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