The Senate Rules Committee held a hearing on June 5 on a Republican proposal that would make filibustering of presidential nominees all but impossible. Introduced by Majority Leader Bill Frist (R-TN), the proposed rule, S. Res. 138, would reduce the number of votes needed to break filibusters against nominees from two-thirds to a simple majority over the course of a few votes.
Democrats have pointed out that the proposed rule would in essence eliminate the filibustering of nominees altogether and deny the minority party any meaningful participation in the Senate’s constitutional duties of advice and consent on presidential nominees. Furthermore, if the new rule passes, nominees like Priscilla Owen and Charles Pickering, hostile to abortion rights, civil rights, and other issues crucial to women and minorities, would easily be confirmed to lifetime positions as federal circuit court judges by the Republican-controlled Senate. The proposed rule change comes at a time when one or more Supreme Court justices are expected to retire by the end of the month.
Republicans claim that Democrats have misused the filibuster and that the Senate’s duty to advise on and consent to presidential nominations does not include blocking those nominations. Senator Dianne Feinstein (D-CA) pointed out at the hearing that Republicans quietly denied even a hearing to more than 50 nominees chosen by President Clinton. Senator Dick Durbin (D-IL) added that 126 of President Bush’s nominees have been confirmed and Democrats have only blocked two. “I have to wonder why we consider this a constitutional crisis,” said Durbin at the hearing.
Members of both parties doubt that Sen. Frist can muster the 67 votes needed to pass the resolution, but some Republicans have threatened to proceed anyway, according to the New York Times. The Senate’s presiding officer could simply issue the proposed rule unilaterally without taking a vote on it. Democrats have said such a “nuclear option” would bring the Senate to a standstill, according to the New York Times.
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