Some words to think about this weekend.
Senators are jockeying for attention in the news over the upcoming vote on Supreme Court nominee Judge Samuel Alito. Many Liberals and Progressives feel that the Democrats have not done enough to stop Alito from being confirmed. Calls are flooding their offices to filibuster the vote.
On every talk show and newscast, the words ‘cloture’ ‘filibuster’ and ‘nuclear option’ are tossed about freely. I thought I would take a minute and review what they mean.
Most of us learned about filibuster in elementary school. That allows Senators to continue the debate for as ‘long as it takes’ before a vote can be taken. I remember once hearing that a Senator stood and read a cookbook for hours during a long filibuster.
Another example would be the 57-day filibuster against the Civil Rights act of 1964. Finally, there were enough votes for cloture in the Senate. Enough Senators voted ‘yes’ for cloture, the debate was ended and vote taken to pass the Civil Rights legislation.
Alito’s supporters (mostly Republicans) are trying to vote for ’cloture’ on Monday.
Probably one of the most dramatic in recent times occured in 1988. The Republicans (minority party then) were filibustering the Campaign Finance Reform Bill. Senate Majority Leader Robert Byrd
responded by requiring non-stop Senate sessions. Republicans boycotted the Senate. Byrd then invoked an obscure rule that allowed him to have absent members arrested and brought to the Senate floor. Senator Bob Packwood was carried onto the floor around one a.m. and was injured in the tussle. Byrd’s strategy wasn’t enough. After eight cloture votes failed, he pulled the reform bill from the agenda. Since 1961 fewer than half of all cloture votes have succeeded.
If you went to school around the same time that I did, you were taught that ‘cloture’ could not be invoked unless 2/3 of the Senate voted yes. That rule changed thirty years ago. In 1975, Senate reduced the number of votes needed to invoke cloture to 3/5 (60 votes).
In order to have a vote of sixty, some Democratic Senators will have to choose ‘yes’ for cloture. That is why every Democratic Senator's vote is so crucial right now. There have already been three Democratic Senators who have stated they will vote yes. There is some hope that a few Republicans will vote against it--siding with the Democrats.
The 'nuclear option' is a provision that the Republican majority has been dangling for several years. They are threatening to change the Senate Rules so that filibuster is prohibited in cases of Judicial Nominations. Since they are the majority party, there is a decent chance that they could succeed. That would give the weaker minority party even less power in fighting against judges that they dislike. However, it works both ways. If the Democrats regain the majority in the Senate--the Republicans would then have to live with that same rule.
Why are some Democrats hesitating? Some believe that their constituents don't want them to block Alito. Some (like the Louisiana Senators) are desperate for Republican money for their States and don't want to make enemies.
Any Senators who filibuster are also up against: 1) complaints that they are wasting taxpayer time and money on a lost cause. 2) Accusations of being obstructionist and holding up other government business. 3) Accusations of playing politics.
These 'hold water' a little because the Republicans have enough votes to confirm Alito.
The goal of this filibuster is to buy time and hope some Republicans change their mind. There is some basis for this---if the NSA/FISA scandal hadn't broke in December, and if Alito hadn't supported and written so much that supports the idea of a stronger more powerful executive branch--- there may not have been enough opposition to Alito for the Democrats to have gotten this far. Remember they delayed the debate for a week after the hearings. Now they are hoping to delay the vote.
I also think that there have been so many accusations of Democrats not doing their job as opposition party that they feel they have to take action. The strong sentiment among many Americans is that it is better for them to ‘go down fighting’ than to let the Republicans roll right over their objections.
With new scandals popping up every day, who knows, they might have a chance.