Judge not

The day we’ve dreaded since November 3 is at hand, folks. The Senate looks ready to do hand-to-hand combat over President George W. Bush’s recent nominations for federal judgeships. Many of the nominees are ultraconservative ideologues, deemed far too extreme by Senate Democrats.

Up until now, the Democrats have been able to stall the appointment of such judges, thanks to a 200-year-old rule called the filibuster, through which, if at least 41 senators oppose a judicial nominee or a bill, they basically can vote to continue debate, thereby blocking a final vote. The filibuster rule provides a constitutional check on the power of the majority party, especially in the current setting, in which one party controls the White House and Congress.

But here comes the filibuster war, and it might end with the Republican majority invoking the so-called nuclear option. Hint: It’s called that because its use would blow up the Senate.

Bush has made it clear, with his repeated maxim that “every judicial nominee deserves an up or down vote,” that he wants the filibuster rule crushed. Republican leaders like Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Orrin Hatch and Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist say they’re ready to do battle.

Here’s how the “nuclear option” would work. Senate rules state that 60 votes are required to end a filibuster. But the Senate requires fewer votes to change its own rules, i.e. to eliminate the filibuster rule. Republicans think they now have the votes (counting Vice President Dick Cheney’s) to advance through a chain of votes and appeals that ultimately would allow them to eliminate the filibuster.

If the filibuster is done away with, an ultraconservative majority also could push a really bad nominee through onto the Supreme Court. The result of this could be disastrous, obviously, since an ultraconservative Supreme Court could overturn Roe v. Wade, gut the Clean Water and Clean Air Acts, weaken the Voting Rights Act and more.

What really rankles us is the hypocrisy. The very Republican senators who now declare that the filibuster is unfair and dangerous are the ones who blocked dozens of Democratic nominees during the Clinton administration.

What can be done about this? People for the American Way has been gearing up for this battle since Bush first took office in 2000. Others allies in the fight to convince moderate Republicans to hold the line against the “nuclear option” include NARAL Pro-Choice America, the Sierra Club and the AFL-CIO. These organizations should be supported in every way possible in their efforts to battle the nuclear option.

Meanwhile, we should all consider the hard fact that, despite a near-evenly divided electorate when it comes to political viewpoint, the president’s party now seems set on all-out control of all three branches of government.