To have a filibuster or not have a filibuster, that is the question. I can understand why Republicans and many Americans think we should do away with the filibuster rule. After all, the majority of U.S. Senators are Republicans, right? They should be able to vote on these judicial nominees. On the other hand, I do not believe most people know exactly what is at stake. This issue is a lot bigger than judicial appointments and it’s bigger than partisanship; it is essentially about our two hundred year old republic.
The Founding Fathers intentionally built in a bicameral legislature. The House, with its two year terms, is supposed to be the more impulsive and more quickly responsive to popular trends of opinion. The Senate, with its six year terms that are staggered into three cycles of expiration, was intended to be slower, more methodical, and to have a long term view. Changing the filibuster rule would alter one of the major purposes of a bicameral legislature.
The filibuster rule is over a hundred and thirty years old…and we’re discarding it like yesterday’s garbage. In 1872, Vice President Schuyler Colfax (R) created the filibuster with his ruling that “under the practice of the Senate the presiding officer could not restrain a Senator in remarks which the Senator considers pertinent to the pending issue.” Since that time, the filibuster has been an important part of the Senate’s role…the power to protect political minorities while maintaining the rights of the majority. As a result, the filibuster was used by Southerners of both parties to slow passage of the civil rights legislation; by Republicans to defeat President Johnson’s nomination of Abe Fortas to the U.S. Supreme Court; and in President Clinton’s first term, the filibuster was used to slow the passage of the gun-control legislation.
Sometimes politicians are wrong and the filibuster is stopped. Sometimes there is a political issue that is so important that the country needs to take a longer look. The filibustering of civil rights legislation strengthened the revolve of most Americans and our country is better off now that segregation has been defeated. The filibuster, and the threat of filibuster, focuses national attention on an issue and that attention educates the electorate. Gun-control advocates, gun-rights advocates, environmentalists and domestic-oil advocates have all been mobilized by filibusters.
Let’s take oil-drilling in the Artic National Wildlife Refuge: It was stopped year after year, but over time, support for the project has grown with the shift of power in the Senate. Whether you like the decision of not, you can’t complain it’s a knee-jerk reaction to gasoline prices. There has been an ebb and flow to the Republican presence in the nation. In the Senate, this is is reflected in the distribution of seats. The Senate grew slowly more conservative in the 90s: 1992 (43 seats), 1994 (52 seats), 1996 (55 seats), 1998 (55 seats). Then, the country took a step back and didn’t seem to know what direction is wanted to go: President Bush was elected, but the Republican seats in the Senate fell to 50. Since that time, the Senate has trended conservative again: 2002 (51 seats) and 2004 (55) seats. But what’s next? What does the 2006 election hold for us? Are a couple of judges worth the destruction of a one hundred and thirty-three old rule as well as two hundred and sixteen years of the Senate’s longterm perspective?
Let me offer a parallel situation in American history. In 1936, FDR broke a one hundred and forty year old tradition by running for a third term. Rather than filibustering the Senate until Roosevelt withdrew his nomination, or filibustering the certification of election results, The Senate waited. After FDR was out of the equation, Congress proposed Amendment XXII to the U.S. Constitution on March 21, 1947 and it was subsequentially ratified on February 27, 1951.
My point is this: Why can’t we wait? Make the filibuster rule a major campaign issue in the 2006 election and see what happens to the balance of power. If the Republicans gain only five more seats they can end a filibuster and our government has not been endangered. If the rule is changed to a simple majority, then it’s a slippery slope to the demise of the Senate. Majority Leader Frist has said that the rule change would apply only to judicial nominees, but how can he guarantee that after the door has been opened? Sen. Frist, The U.S. Senate and the American people need to remember that, once this is done, it can not be undone. It’s not called the “nuclear option” for nothing. What’s more, are the Senate Republicans prepared to suffer this same treatment at the hands of a Democratic majority at some time in the future? Protect minority political opinions. Protect the Senate. Protect our democracy. Protect the Filibuster Rule.