Democrat Obstruction Day

In: All News   Posted 05/09/2003

WASHINGTON—May 9, 2003 is Democrat Obstruction Day, the two-year anniversary of President Bush’s first class of 11 nominees to the federal courts of appeals. Of this class, three have not yet been confirmed; two are facing unprecedented filibusters by a partisan minority of the Senate. In order to reform the broken confirmation process, and stop filibusters of the President’s judicial nominees, a bipartisan group of 11 Senators proposed a resolution Friday to reform Senate rules governing filibusters."Two years is too long,” U.S. Sen. John Cornyn said. “These well qualified nominees deserve a vote, not more obstruction by constitutionally dubious means. I applaud the majority leader for offering a solution to a broken confirmation process that is denying justice in America.” the proposed rule change would ensure that after a full and adequate debate, a majority of the Senate would be able to vote on Presidential nominees without a minority of the Senate obstructing their confirmation."These new rules would not guarantee a nominee would be confirmed, and would not turn the Senate into a rubber stamp—something I would strongly oppose,” Cornyn said. “However, nominees who have the support of a majority of the Senate would receive a vote, and not be obstructed for years, as they are now.” the resolution is modeled on a proposal offered by Sen. Zell Miller (D-Ga.) earlier this year, and by Sens. Joe Lieberman (D-Conn.) and Tom Harkin (D-Iowa) in 1995, though would apply only to nominees, not legislation. Like the Miller proposal, the voting rules to end debate and proceed to a vote would change from the current 60 needed to stop a filibuster. When implemented, the proposal would make changes to the amount of time a nominee could be obstructed, yet would allow for substantial debate. Before cloture could be filed, 12 hours of debate would be in order—as was suggested by both parties when debating the organization of the divided Senate in the 107th Congress. Once the first cloture was filed, if the vote failed to end debate, the threshold for cloture on subsequent votes would move from 60, to 57, then 54 and 51. But there would be a final, fifth step: a majority of Senators present and voting—the constitutional standard for confirming judges. Sen. Cornyn joined Sens. Miller, Saxby Chambliss (R-Ga.), Ted Stevens (R-Alaska.), Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.), Rick Santorum (R-Pa.), Jon Kyl (R-Ariz.), Trent Lott (R-Miss.), and Orrin Hatch (R-Utah) in co-sponsoring the majority leader’s resolution. MORE - Historical Background Harkin-Lieberman (1995) in 1995, just as the Republicans were taking control of the 104th Congress, and as the Democrats were returning to minority status in the Senate as well as the House, Democrat Senators Tom Harkin and Joe Lieberman proposed to amend Rule XXII. Under their proposal, debate on all measures (both legislative and executive calendars) could eventually be closed by 51 Senators. To retain the Senate tradition of full debate, the first cloture vote would remain at 60 votes. To preserve the constitutional principle of majority rule, subsequent cloture attempts would require incrementally fewer votes, from 60 to 57 to 54 to 51.•As Senator Harkin explained his proposal on the Senate Floor back in 1995, “the minority would have the opportunity to debate, focus public attention on a bill, and communicate their case to the public. In the end, though, the majority could bring the measure to a final vote, as it generally should in a democracy.”•Senators Harkin and Lieberman have both stated that filibusters, when abused to distort the constitutional doctrine of majority rule, are unconstitutional. the Harkin-Lieberman plan received praise from the New York Times and other publications, as well as from numerous Senate Democrats.•For example, on January 1, 1995, the New York Times editorialized that “[t]he Harkin plan . . . would go a long way toward making the Senate a more productive place to conduct the nation’s business. . . . Now is the perfect moment . . . to get rid of an archaic rule that frustrates democracy and serves no useful purpose.” •17 other Senators – and thus a total of 19 Senate Democrats – expressed their support for the Harkin-Lieberman proposal – including current Democrat Senators Jeff Bingaman, Barbara Boxer, Russ Feingold, Bob Graham, Ted Kennedy, John Kerry, Frank Lautenberg, and Paul Sarbanes, as well as former Democrat Senator David Pryor. the Harkin-Lieberman proposal wasn’t approved in 1995. But as Senator Lieberman stated just prior to the vote, “Senator Harkin and I are prepared to keep fighting until this change occurs because of what is on the line, which is the credibility and the productivity of the U.S. Senate.” Miller (2003) On March 13, 2003, Senator Zell Miller reintroduced the Harkin-Lieberman proposal (S. Res. 85) to combat the current judicial confirmation process and the abusive filibuster of Miguel Estrada. As he explained in his March 10 Wall Street Journal op-ed, entitled Senate Math: 41 Is Greater Than 59!, “the Senate is the only place I know where 59 votes out of 100 cannot pass anything because 41 votes out of 100 can defeat it. Last week, of course, 55 senators – a clear majority – voted to end a filibuster against Mr. Estrada and still lost the day. Try explaining that at your local Rotary Club or to a constituent in the Wal-Mart parking lot or, for that matter, to the college freshman in Poly Sci 101. You can’t because it stands democracy on its head.”