In what was a loosely veiled attempt to change the rules in order to further President Bush’s campaign to stack the courts with right wing judges, Senate Republicans held a hearing earlier this week to evaluate the constitutionality of the filibuster. Led by freshman Senator John Cornyn (R-TX), the hearing featured a panel of “constitutional scholars” which largely consisted of representatives from the far-right fringes of the nation’s legal society, who argued that when it comes to judicial nominations the filibuster is an unconstitutional way to impede the rights of the majority.
Senate Republicans hope to use this argument to change the rules of the Senate to say that a filibuster cannot be used on judicial nominations or other “executive calendar” items but can still be used to promote debate on legislation and other matters on the Senate’s “legislative calendar.”
“Why is it unconstitutional to filibuster a judge but not legislation?” Senator Charles Schumer (D-NY) posed. “This seems like a case of taking the results you want and twisting the legal argument to make it right.” Schumer presented his own proposal to fix the judicial nominations process. He proposed that nominating commissions in each state, appointed by the President and the Senate Majority Leader with an equal number of Democrats and Republicans, would suggest candidates for judicial vacancies. The White House outright rejected this idea.
Senator Dick Durbin (D-IL) noted that Senate Republicans were trying to change the rules because Senate Democrats have launched filibusters against two judicial nominees – Priscilla Owen and Miguel Estrada – after approving 123 of President Bush’s nominees. This in light of the fact that Republicans did not even allow 59 of President Clinton’s nominees to have hearings. “Any attempt to resolve this problem…has got to be something other than George Bush gets all his nominees and ‘Gee, hopefully things will get better when the Democrats have a president,” Sen. Russ Feingold (D-WI) said, according to the Associated Press.