Monday, May 23, 2005

Good to See Senate Compromise on Judicial Nominations

It's good to see that the Senate has apparently reached a compromise on the question of filibustering judicial nominations for at least a time. Such an accommodation, of course, is something I felt certain would come about because most senators know how to count; contestants on both sides of the filibuster issue knew they didn't have the votes to prevail. Besides that, solid Republican legislators like John McCain, Mike DeWine, and John Warner knew that the long-term consequences for the Senate and the Republican Party would make a win on this issue a hollow one.

Although, as usual, Senator Byrd's proclamation that through this agreement, the republic has been saved, was wildly hyperbolic, it is a good step away from hyperpartisan gridlock.

UPDATE: Rick of Stones Cry Out thinks the compromise is a good deal for Republicans. I agree and wrote this about it there:

I absolutely agree that this is a smart deal for Republicans and one which I have eagerly anticipated for weeks.
It's smart for both sides, really. It extricates the Democrats from a PR morass they could not win.
But for Republicans, whose position on the nuclear option meant that, at best, they couldn't lose (without necessarily winning), there are several decided advantages.

(1) It acknowledges reality. By the time people get to the US Senate, there's one thing they all do quite well: count. Savvy senators knew that the "nuclear option" didn't have the votes. [The Republicans thus avoided a defeat that could have had a negative spillover effect in other areas.]

(2) This agreement allows an up or down vote on several bottled-up judicial nominations, establishing a precedent for future nominations by the President. The Republican agenda is therefore advanced.

(3) It has a wise, pragmatic sense of history and of the future. To have exercised the nuclear option would have felt good to many Republicans for a moment. But its implications for the future and its departure from the past would have haunted Republicans for decades to come.

During this confrontation, Bob Dole and others, while advocating an up or down vote for the President's judicial nominations, also counseled restraint in doing away with 200+ years of Senate tradition. (I know, the filibuster has rarely been used in debates over judicial nominations. And I personally would like to see the filibuster in all cases go the way of the do-do bird; it has almost always been used to thwart reform or the advancement of civil rights and is therefore a lamentable custom. But the fact is that the filibuster has been an available weapon for more than two centuries.)

The reason for Dole's counsel: Republicans won't always be in power. When in the minority, they might want to use the filibuster to thwart, bottle up, or provide opportunity to present a case against, the nomination of a Democratic President of a Democratic jurist to a Democratic Congress.

It's wise politics to allow your opponent some shred of dignity so that in a later day, they will reciprocate. More than that, compromising now will give a future Republican minority options for dissent.

(4) It puts the onus on the Democrats. Having agreed to a compromise that calls for up or down votes on several upcoming nominations and having done so to facilitate doing the people's business, the Democrats will appear to be obstructionists and leave themselves no choice but to acquiesce to limits on debates over nominations in the near future.

As Dean Rusk put it during the Cuban Missile Crisis and the US received a communication from Nikita Krushchev backing away from the Soviet Union's hardline stance, "We were eyeball to eyeball and the other guy blinked." The Democrats blinked. Now, they'll have to live with the consequences.

A debt of gratitude is owed by the country and Republicans to people like Mike DeWine, John McCain, and John Warner. They've played an important role in this drama.

ANOTHER UPDATE: For a nuanced and wise analysis of the filibuster compromise, check out this piece by Michael Meckler. As Meckler points out, the compromise preserves President Bush's right to put any nominee forward he wishes. But it is jealous of the traditional Senatorial prerogative of senators being consulted on potential nominees from their states.

YET ANOTHER UPDATE: Professor Bainbridge has some interesting things to say about the filibuster deal.

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