The filibusters have no choice

It should come as no surprise that President Bush would like to see the federal judiciary stacked with legal minds that favor a strong anti-choice agenda. These past two years, he and like-minded Republicans in the U.S. Senate have made sweeping moves to forward this plan, even by promoting some extremist judicial nominees who seem downright hostile to women’s rights and civil liberties.

So, it’s fitting that Senate Democrats have tried to block some of these nominations by hauling out that old Mr. Smith Goes to Washington tactic: the filibuster. It’s a constitutionally allowed maneuver in which senators hold the floor in extensive debate in order to prevent a vote on a divisive issue. Basically, it’s a way for the Senate minority to send a message to the majority that it is being too extreme, that compromise is needed.

A few weeks ago, Senate Democrats blocked Texas Supreme Court Judge Priscilla Owen—with her troubling record on women’s rights—from being confirmed to a powerful judicial post on the U.S. Court of Appeals. These senators are now trying to stall ultra-conservative Washington lawyer Miguel Estrada from being seated to the District of Columbia Circuit Court of Appeals.

Another likely target for a filibuster is U.S. District Court Judge Charles Pickering of Mississippi, a man with a particularly awful record on reproductive and civil rights (he has opposed interracial marriages and literally quotes the Bible in his legal opinions). Pickering’s nomination is vehemently opposed by everyone from Planned Parenthood to People for the American Way, from the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People to the AFL-CIO.

Also, as of press time, it was unclear if Bush would retract his nomination of California Judge Carolyn Kuhl, a former Reagan-administration lawyer nominated to the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals in San Francisco. Kuhl had written an opinion stating that Roe v. Wade should be done away with. If she’s not withdrawn, Kuhl likely will join those the Senate minority intends to block.

The president has claimed that the tactic of using the filibuster to impede nominees is “unprecedented, unacceptable and inconsistent.” But both parties have used the filibuster. And, so far, the Senate has confirmed 124 of 126 Bush judicial nominees, including some very conservative ones. So far, only the most extreme have provoked a filibuster.

Last week, Senate Republicans began trying to change the rules so as to end the minority party’s ability to filibuster. We certainly hope they fail. The Senate minority is doing its constitutional duty by blocking nominees with extreme, way-out-of-the-mainstream views so they aren’t given powerful, lifetime judgeships.

Ideologues don’t belong on the federal bench. The administration must work with the Senate to choose nominees who are more moderate. Until Bush gets wise to this, the best he should expect is more blocking tactics from the filibusters.