GOP Should Change the Filibuster Rules

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Commentator Joseph C. Phillips chastises Senate Republicans for not using their majority status to change filibuster rules and force a vote on President Bush's judicial nominees. Phillips is an actor and a syndicated columnist.


The fight over judicial nominees and Senate filibusters has taken a racial turn. On Thursday, Majority Leader Bill Frist joined a group of black pastors, including one bishop who asked why Democrats are, quote, "afraid to put a black woman on the court,"--end quote. Meantime, the Congressional Black Caucus said a Republican move to seat a conservative black judge was offensive to African-Americans. As the Senate inches closer to a showdown, commentator Joseph C. Phillips wishes Republicans would act like a majority party.

Mr. JOSEPH C. PHILLIPS (Actor and Syndicated Columnist): In 1964, Senator Robert Byrd spoke on the Senate floor for 14 hours and 13 minutes. His purpose? To block passage of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. Forty years later, the Democratic Party is once again attempting to deter the march of history. Utilizing a strategy unprecedented in the history of the Senate, Democrats are using the filibuster to block the president's nominees to the appellate court. It's no wonder Senator Byrd's blood is surging. The old boy's been all over the news waxing nostalgic about the virtue of the filibuster. I suppose there's something to be said for consistency.

Whatever the merits of the filibuster, it was never intended to wrest power from the executive office. Article II, Section 2 of the Constitution confers on the office of president the right and the duty to appoint judges. The Constitution further defines as the role of the Senate to advise the president and consent or not to his nominations. This is achieved through an up-or-down vote, and nowhere does the Constitution require a supermajority to approve the president's choices.

Certainly one should not be surprised that a Republican majority would approve the nominations of a Republican president. Of course, Democrats are singing the familiar tune that they are the last line of defense before the apocalypse. Without the filibuster, the evil Republicans will stack the court with radical judges who are out of the mainstream, bent on turning their personal opinions into the law of the land. You know, you really have to admire Democratic chutzpa. Judges that discover rights for homosexual marriage, that remove God from the public square, and base constitutional decisions on evolving standards and international opinion seem the definition of radical to me. Such judicial thinking is demonstrably out of step with mainstream America, yet precisely the type of progressive thinking Democrats like to hear from their judges.

But at least Democrats know what they want and are disciplined enough to fight for it. Republicans in the Senate are so busy breaking rank, hand-wringing and holding their fingers to the wind that they've been unable to weave a clear and compelling message for the American people. And, frankly, I'm tired of hearing Republicans whine. They have the majority: Use it!

Republican Majority Leader Bill Frist has talked of calling for a vote to change the rules and prevent the filibuster of judicial nominees. By the way, whose brilliant idea was it to coin the phrase `nuclear option'? Forcing the minority party to adhere and abide by the Constitution is not nuclear. Besides, Democrats launched a first strike when they threw 200 years of Senate tradition to the wind and invoked the filibuster for judicial nominees.

Minority Leader Harry Reid claims that any rule change by the majority will kill debate on this important issue. But there's been no debate. Senate Democrats have never actually gone old school like Senator Byrd and been required to prattle on for 14 hours straight. Before voting on a rule change, it might be a good idea to force Senate Democrats to actually hold the floor for days on end. If the goal is open debate and compromise, let's have at it. Let America tune into C-SPAN or MSNBC and watch the obstructionists in action. Do something. Change the rules, demand that the Senate go to the mattresses, but act. The president's judicial nominees deserve an up-or-down vote. Republicans owe it to their president, and the entire Senate owes it to the voters, who, unlike Senator Byrd, do not wistfully recall the good old days.

CHIDEYA: Joseph C. Phillips is an actor and syndicated columnist.

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