Senator Bill Frist has just delivered a speech on the Senate floor, proposing a compromise to end the threat of judicial filibusters. His proposal, in a nutshell, is that the parties agree that 1) no Supreme Court or Court of Appeals nominees will be filibustered by the minority, and 2) no such nominees will be blocked in the Judiciary Committee, presumably by the majority. The effect of the agreement would be that all appellate court nominees would get an up or down vote on the Senate floor. The speech is here. He has also written a letter to Harry Reid, communicating the proposed compromise.
The proposal sounds like a good idea to me. The idea of assuring a vote is supported by the vast majority of Americans. Bottling judges up in the Judiciary Committee was a principal excuse the Democrats used for the filibuster. The quid pro quo seems fair, regardless of which party is in the majority at any given time. And the compromise would ratify what has actually been the practice in the Senate for most of its history.
Will the Democrats accept? I think they might, since they know (at least, I think they know) that the Republicans have the votes needed to change the Senate rule and ban the filibuster with respect to judges. For the Democrats, it comes down to a political calculation. The first part of the calculation is, if they reject the compromise and force the Republicans to proceed with the Constitutional option, do they gain or lose votes? Notwithstanding their bravado, my guess is that the Democrats fear they will be the political losers if they go to the wall for the principle that a minority should be able to block a judicial nominee from receiving a vote.
But the calculation has a second stage: whatever the general public may think, do Democratic Senators risk losing the support and enthusiasm of important elements of their base if they stop short of doing everything possible to block President Bush’s judges? I suspect that they do. Among the Democrats’ richest and most fervent supporters, this may be the number one issue. So Senator Frist’s proposal puts the Democrats in a very difficult position.
That’s how it looks to me at first glance, anyway.
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