Yesterday, the editorial board of the Minneapolis Star Tribune came down squarely on the side of the filibuster in an editorial titled: “Nuking the filibuster/GOP arguments fail smell test.” In the Strib’s view, the filibuster is the Senate’s great contribution to democracy:
As the Republicans in the U.S. Senate consider invoking the “nuclear option” of prohibiting filibusters on judicial candidates, a bit of Senate history might be in order. It shows that the arguments being marshaled against the filibuster are sheer sophistry.
To end debate in the Senate and force a vote requires a successful motion for “cloture,” which takes 60 yeas to pass. From the first days of the Senate, the principle of unlimited debate was the hallmark that set it apart from the House.
The Strib thinks that requiring a super-majority to confirm a judicial appointment is a fine thing:
In his statement on the “nuclear option,” [Senator Norm] Coleman says that senators have a “right to vote ‘yes’ or ‘no’ on judges.” In fact, they have that right in a cloture vote; it simply takes 60 of them to advance a nomination.
As one who is old enough to remember the Civil Rights era, I find it a little disorienting to read liberals’ current paeans to that warm-and-fuzzy tool of democracy, the filibuster. In the case of the Strib, however, you don’t need to go back that far to find inconsistency. As recently as the Clinton administration, the Strib was fulminating against the filibuster. Reader Martin Vaala dug around in the Strib’s archives and came up with this gem from April 23, 1993; click to enlarge:
In 1993, portions of President Clinton’s domestic program were being filibustered by Republicans, and the Strib was enraged:
Down the drain goes President Clinton’s economic stimulus package, washed away in the putrid flood of verbiage known as a filibuster.
Call it a power game. Call it politics as usual. Call it reprehensible.
Well, that was different, of course. It was different, too, in 1994, when the Strib wrote an editorial titled: “Stall busters–Don’t pull punches in anti-filibuster fight.”
This time, the Strib hailed the efforts of a bipartisan group that was trying to end the filibuster once and for all:
More than a score of distinguished Minnesotans are lending their names today to a national crusade against a worsening threat to American democracy. The threat doesn’t spring from economic ills, social decay or foreign menace. It’s something that’s long been in the U.S. Senate’s rule book–the ability of a 41-percent minority to block action with a filibuster.
[W]hen such a group comes together with like-minded leaders from around the country, they should not be content merely to sound an alarm and seek some pledges. They should crusade for changes in Senate procedures that would prevent an obstructionist minority from delaying action indefinitely.
I guess it’s safe to say that the crusade is over.
UPDATE by SCOTT: Jim Boyd is the deputy editor of the Star Tribune editorial page. Boyd writes:
Waiting for the citation from the Star Tribune where we called for a change in Senate rules to outlaw the filibuster on either policy issues or judicial candidates. Sure, we sometimes didn’t like them, but can you find a place where we ever called for a rule change?
Me thinks not; as usual, you are just changing the subject. And unlike us, you don’t even print responses to your views.
JOHN adds: This is beyond weird. Boyd apparently fired off his email without even bothering to read the Strib’s own editorials, which we took the trouble of reproducing in full as part of our post. Here is what the Strib wrote in 1994:
The “Action, Not Gridlock” group hopes greater public awareness will rein in the Senate minority’s impulse to filibuster. The group has been loath thus far to propose a rules change to make cloture easier for the majority to attain. But a reasonable proposal, like the one advocated by Don Fraser, would provide a useful rallying point for reformers. Fraser favors gradually dropping from 60 to 50 percent the vote required for cloture, over a period of days or weeks. Prolonged debate would still be possible, but a vote could not be forever delayed.
As Fraser notes and the other “Action, Not Gridlock” participants surely know, the filibuster is a formidable foe…Many Senators in the majority still defend the practice. That’s why those who would end the overuse of filibusters dare not pull their punches. They should go on the offensive with a reform plan, and prepare for an arduous but very worthwhile fight.
If that wasn’t an endorsement of Fraser’s “reform plan,” what was it? Fraser’s plan would have ended the filibuster, since, after a specified period of time, a majority would be sufficient to terminate debate.
In any event, Boyd’s objection doesn’t address the point of our post, which was that the Strib’s attitude toward filibusters depends entirely on whose ox is being gored.
UPDATE 2 by SCOTT: In a subsequent message, Boyd expanded on his email as follows:
The main point is that we’ve never urged Democrats in the Senate to abolish the filibuster, let alone use a point of order maneuver to get around a filibuster on a rules change in order to make a rules change. Nor have we ever urged a Democratic president to make recess appointments of rejected judges, or to bring back rejected judges for a second try.
Nor did your original post deal with the substance of the Sunday editorial; you just said we were being hypocrites. That’s not true, but even if it were, it wouldn’t speak to the arguments in the Sunday editorial. They stand on their own merit.
JOHN adds one last word: I’m not sure whether Boyd’s second email was sent before or after I put up my update, so I’ll close with this brief note:
Jim Boyd writes: “Waiting for the citation from the Star Tribune where we called for a change in Senate rules to outlaw the filibuster on either policy issues or judicial candidates. Sure, we sometimes didn’t like them, but can you find a place where we ever called for a rule change?”
Minneapolis Star Tribune editorial, Sept. 30, 1994, as quoted in our original post, which Boyd presumably read before he started sending us emails: “[Reformers] should crusade for changes in Senate procedures that would prevent an obstructionist minority from delaying action indefinitely.”