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William Rivers Pitt: Filibusted?


By William Rivers Pitt
t r u t h o u t | Perspective

Sunday 24 April 2005


The GOP leadership is still going to talk about "activist judges." They're still going to flood the talk-show airwaves with talk of a "judiciary that is out of control." They're still going to ally themselves with the worst elements of the extreme right in an effort to kill the filibuster in the Senate, so they can ram through 12 thoroughly inappropriate judicial nominees along with whatever else they feel like.

The GOP leadership is still going to do that, but for the time being, it appears possible the push to take the "Nuclear Option" and get rid of the filibuster has hit the reef.

The Associated Press reported Thursday on some private, internal polling done by the GOP on this matter. According to the scant information released by an anonymous party official, only 37% of Republicans polled support getting rid of the filibuster. Only 20% of Republicans polled believed the statement by party officials that Bush is the only President who has had his nominees filibustered. The secrecy of the overall poll numbers is telling; when the GOP has numbers that help their arguments, they break their legs rushing it out to the airwaves.

Interestingly, this polling data was sent to GOP officials shortly after the Senate Judiciary Committee voted to send Bush judicial nominees Priscilla Owen and Janice Rogers Brown to the full Senate for confirmation. This is to be watched, for Owen and Brown may become the catalysts for a full-Senate brawl over the filibuster if the GOP decides to ignore its own numbers and forge ahead. Time is short; the Senate has decided to take up debate over the highway bill next week, and the Senate goes on recess the week after.

One clear sign that the wheels may be coming off this particular applecart came from none other than Rick Santorum, the Republican Senator from Pennsylvania, who has been the most vociferous champion for the removal of the filibuster. Santorum, in the face of those internal polls, has been privately arguing for a delay in engaging the "Nuclear Option." If Rick is putting on the brakes, success in their efforts does not appear to be in the short-term cards. The best laid plans and all that.

It appears, in this matter, the Democratic minority has successfully managed to frame the argument to their advantage. According to the D.C. publication The Hill, "Senate and House Democrats have woven the Republican intervention in the Schiavo issue, DeLay's statement about judges who declined to save her life, and GOP consideration of the nuclear option into a broad message that Republicans are abusing power. John Bolton's stalled nomination to become U.N. ambassador has also become a distraction."

Senator Ken Salazar of Colorado described Democratic concerns over this issue succinctly in a recent interview. Pointing to the far-right group Focus on the Family, which has been at the forefront of the push to get rid of the filibuster, Salazar said, "I think that the way Focus on the Family and the conservative right wing is attempting to take the country will threaten the basic cornerstone of our freedom. I think the kind of attack that is being used against [Democratic senators] and against me has the potential of moving our country to abandoning the freedom of worship which we enjoy in this country, and moving toward the creation of a theocracy."

Senator Patty Murray, also of Washington, sounded the cry for the defense of checks and balances in an article appearing in Friday's Seattle Post-Intelligencer. "One of the first things every child is taught about the U.S. government," Murray wrote, "is the separation of the three branches. This separation, and the checks and balances that come with it, are fundamental to the greatest system of government ever created. This system is worth protecting. When any citizen comes before a judge, we have a responsibility to ensure that they will get a fair shake. We can't make those assurances if one party alone is selecting, considering and confirming them to the courts."

"Recent comments by advocates on the other side, and even by some elected officials," continued Murray, "have left me worried about the future of the independent judiciary. It seems many in this country are intent on running roughshod over the Constitution, bent on misusing their power to destroy fundamental principles of democracy. That's not how America works. It is not what our Founding Fathers intended. In our democracy, no single person and no single political party may impose extreme views on the nation. The constitutional system of checks and balances was set up for a reason. It has worked for two centuries. There is no reason to go nuclear and destroy this fundamental principle now."

This argument is not nearly over. Several Republican Senators are still on the fence as to whether or not they will support this effort if and when it should come to a vote. Only a handful of those undecideds are required to side with the GOP leadership for the outcome to be assured. Should those Senators decide that going along to get along is the best option, Frist and the leadership may well decide to forge ahead no matter what their internal polling is telling them.

Stay tuned. Next week may prove to be very interesting.


William Rivers Pitt is the senior editor and lead writer for truthout. He is a New York Times and international bestselling author of two books - 'War on Iraq: What Team Bush Doesn't Want You to Know' and 'The Greatest Sedition is Silence.' Join the discussions at his blog forum.

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