Democrats & Liberals Archives

We Don't Like the Rules: Break Them

The Big Confrontation has begun in the Senate. It’s not about the judges nominated - Priscilla Owen and Janice Rogers Brown. It’s not about activist or non-activist judicial philosophy. It’s not about political partisanship. It’s not about any principle, such as conservatism or liberalism. It’s not even about the virtues and flaws of the filibuster. The Confrontation is strictly about power. Republicans deem the filibuster rule to be in the way of their packing the Supreme Court, so they plan to break it. Despite the fact that Senate rules do not allow the “nuclear option”!

Norman Ornstein, of the conservative American Enterprise Institute, who studies the history and ways of the Senate as an institution, states in glaringly obvious terms, that the "nuclear option" is against Senate rules:

"To make this happen, the Senate will have to get around the clear rules and precedents, set and regularly reaffirmed over 200 years, that allow debate on questions of constitutional interpretation--debate which itself can be filibustered. It will have to do this in a peremptory fashion, ignoring or overruling the Parliamentarian. And it will establish, beyond question, a new precedent. Namely, that whatever the Senate rules say--regardless of the view held since the Senate’s beginnings that it is a continuing body with continuing rules and precedents--they can be ignored or reversed at any given moment on the whim of the current majority."

These points are clear:

  • The filibuster has been around for over 200 years
  • To stop a filibuster requires 60 votes.
  • To change a rule requires a 2/3 majority - 67 votes.
  • Before changing a rule, you must allow a filibuster about it
  • If you do not know the rules, ask the parliamentarian, who has already said that a rule change would require 67 votes.
Ornstein makes another point clear:
"Ignored in this argument has been Senate Rule XXXI, which makes clear that there is neither guarantee nor expectation that nominations made by the president get an up-or-down vote, or indeed any action at all."

There you have it. The "nuclear option" is nothng but a power play. Republicans are willing to disregard Senate rules in order to get their way. If we allow this, they will keep on ridding the Senate of rules that stymie them and their agenda. The Senate will become a rubber stamp for those in power. Our democracy and its checks and balances will suffer.

You've been hearing all kinds of propaganda about the evils of "liberals," "Democratic obstructionists" and "secularist devils." All in order to gain non-democratic power. The Senate filibuster rule stymies Republicans, so they intend to break it.

The issue is joined: Republicans want to break rules. Democrats want to keep them.

Posted by Paul Siegel at May 23, 2005 2:30 PM