Making up my mind on important policy issues has never been difficult -- until now. I can't decide whether I am for or against Republican efforts to change the rules governing how judicial nominations are brought to the floor of the U.S. Senate for a vote. There is no question that Democrats have been obstructionist in blocking President Bush's nominees, but I am still uncomfortable with the way the GOP is trying to solve this problem.
In unprecedented fashion, the Democrats have been able to hold up one-third of the president's nominees for Appeals Court vacancies. Some of these nominees have been languishing for years, despite impeccable credentials. President Bush nominated Patricia Owens to the Fifth Circuit in 2001, and she has yet to get a vote by the Senate. Miguel Estrada, nominated to the D.C. Circuit, became so discouraged after more than two years of waiting for a vote that he asked the president to withdraw his nomination. The Democrats have succeeded in blocking these nominations by abusing Senate rules on debate.
Until 1917, the Senate allowed for unlimited debate, which allowed a single-minded senator or group of senators to kill bills (and occasionally, nominations) they opposed by simply talking them to death. According to the official Senate website, senators then put in place some restrictions limiting debate at the suggestion of President Woodrow Wilson, allowing a two-thirds vote -- or 67 senators -- to invoke cloture to shut off debate.
In 1975, senators once again modified their own rules, reducing to 60 senators the number needed to force a vote. At the time, it was mostly Democrats, who were in the majority, who favored limits on minority rights. As Sen. Edward Kennedy said at the time, "Again and again in recent years, the filibuster has been the shame of the Senate and the last resort of special interest groups. Too often, it has enabled a small minority of the Senate to prevent a strong majority from working its will and serving the public interest."
Linda Chavez is chairman of the Center for Equal Opportunity and author of Betrayal: How Union Bosses Shake Down Their Members and Corrupt American Politics .
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