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Jewish World Review
Nov. 29, 2013/ 26 Kislev, 5774
Filibuster flattened, GOP aroused
Democrats in the U.S. Senate have ended filibusters on presidential nominations for judicial and executive positions, and there are a few things to say about that. It is spit in the face of a proud American tradition. It will further the autocratic ambitions of our president. It will exacerbate partisan turmoil. And it sets a precedent that could eventually haunt the left as much as the right.
While the ways in which it has been applied have changed over time, the core filibuster tradition goes back to 1789 and is entwined with other Senate distinctions meant to incline that body more to what's right in the long run than what's popular in the short term. The rule, which can give the minority party a means to forestall final votes and maybe get more debate, is a way of saying deliberation trumps expediency - that senators should heed each other.
"You know, the founders designed this system, as frustrating as it is, to make sure that there's a broad consensus before the country moves forward," President Barack Obama himself said as a senator defending the filibuster in 2005.
That's when Republicans controlled the Senate and were fed up with Democrats blocking President George W. Bush's judicial nominations. To liberal horror, they briefly considered something akin to what Democrats have now done after push and pull by some eager beaver senators relatively fresh on the scene.
More taken by a sense of ideological urgency than institutional respect, they wanted to be able to confirm Obama nominees with 51 party-line votes instead of 60 votes that would necessarily have to include some, ugh, Republicans. After a parliamentary maneuver that itself contradicted Senate tradition, they partied. And in a similarly celebratory mood, some liberal professors, think tank types and commentators - no longer horrified by such a thing - instead expressed delight that Republican "obstruction" had been dealt a deserved blow.
But might obstruction be in the eye of the beholder?
By some straightforward, arithmetic ways of calculating, the filibustering of Obama nominees has been less disruptive than filibustering meant to thwart the purposes of the dreaded Bush, and there has been good reason to watch out for Obama. He delights in regulatory interventions sometimes as constitutionally dubious as his rewriting of a number of laws without congressional approval. Because some of his nominees could advance that game, standing in their way could be easily construed as safeguarding our rights.
With no filibuster to worry about, here is one thing Obama can soon do: pack the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia with three liberal judges less needed as a matter of workload than as a matter of approving more regulations that could diminish liberty and opportunity. Nor will it end there even though the Democrats still face some tussles.
As a New York Times analysis concludes, the historic filibuster restrictions could well prompt the most intense "partisan warfare" in years as more agreeable Republicans become less agreeable about bargains and more antagonistic Republicans become more antagonistic in the way they employ procedural interventions.
The filibuster is still in play on legislation and Republican support has repeatedly facilitated passage of measures most Senate Democrats wanted. But what now? Might Democrats have to give more to get just a little? Or might they also end filibuster prerogatives on legislation?
Whatever they do, they have already paved the way for Republicans - if they ever take control of the Senate - to run roughshod over them, a new horror for liberals. And excuse me, fellow conservatives, but that should not warm your hearts, either. Republicans need checks and balances, too.
Every weekday JewishWorldReview.com publishes what many in in the media and Washington consider "must-reading". Sign up for the daily JWR update. It's free. Just click here.
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Jay Ambrose, formerly Washington director of editorial policy for Scripps Howard newspapers and the editor of dailies in El Paso, Texas, and Denver, is a columnist living in Colorado.
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