Fear of Clowns

"Faith may be defined briefly as an illogical belief in the occurrence of the improbable."
- H. L. Mencken
gozz@gozz.com

Tuesday, May 17, 2005

"Nuclear option" explained: lowering the bar for unpopular nominations 

Here is a good explanation of the "nuclear option" Republicans are considering using to lower the bar of the Senate's approval of judicial nominees,

If all goes as planned, Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist (R-Tenn.) will rise after several days of debate beginning today over one of President Bush's judicial nominees and call for an end to Democrats' delaying tactics. The presiding officer will then rule in his favor.

Democrats will protest the ruling and ask for a vote to overturn it. The Republican leader will seek to table that appeal. If Frist and the GOP majority prevail, a long tradition of filibustering will be narrowed and a new precedent will be set allowing the Republicans to force a vote on a nomination with a simple majority instead of three-fifths of the Senate.

... To get there, Republicans will have to evade a requirement that they have a two-thirds vote -- 67 of 100 senators -- to change the chamber's rules. Republicans will argue that they are attempting to set a precedent, not change the Senate rules, to disallow the use of filibusters as a delaying tactic on judicial nominations. And by doing so, they say, they are returning to a more traditional concept of majority rule.

The rule change Frist is seeking to bar the use of the filibuster for judicial nominations has been dubbed the "nuclear option" because of its potential to disrupt the Senate and shatter what little comity remains between Republicans and Democrats.

Historically, Senate rules were designed to protect the interests of the minority and to slow the deliberative process. In fashioning those rules, the Senate set a much higher threshold for changes than a simple majority vote.

It's ironic (or maybe not) that Republican Senators - who represent much less of the American population than their Democratic counterparts - claim they represent "mainstream values" at the same time as they consider a radical manipulation of long-standing rules in order to confirm a few unpopular Bush appointees. That they must change the rules for these few nominations is the best testament to the fact those nominations are "out of the mainstream". If anything, Bush's "mainstream" nominations are the vast majority that get through the process as is - not the ones that can't cross the Senate's bar without jimmying the rules.

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