Friday, November 22, 2013

A Voice of Reason?

In 2006 a few Republican Senators were considering reducing the vote threshold to confirm some of George Bush's judicial nominations.  Miguel Estrada and John Roberts, to name two, had been held up by the Democratic minority using the filibuster, leaving vacancies on the DC circuit court of appeals. the court that generally deals with lawsuits against the federal government.  Democrats argued that the DC Circuit didn't need more judges as it had a very low case load.  From what I have read they were correct, but this opposition also had the effect of preventing several conservative appointments to that important court.  During argument against what came to be called the "nuclear option" Senator Harry Reid, from Nevada, made the following speech:
“For 200 years, we’ve had the right to extended debate. It’s not some ‘procedural gimmick.’ It’s within the vision of the Founding Fathers of our country. They established a government so that no one person — and no single party — could have total control.”
 In 2008, he added
“In all my years in government, that was the most important thing I ever worked on.” He swore that as long as he was leader he would never use the nuclear option, saying it would be a “black chapter in the history of the Senate.”

So what happened yesterday?  The Democrats, wanting to add liberal judges to the DC Circuit to minimize the chances of that court finding the Administration guilty of overstepping their Constitutional bounds, exercised the "nuclear option" under the leadership of Harry Reid.  They have overturned 200 years of Senate tradition, their leader has thrown his "principled" opposition out the window, and they are on the verge of packing the court to get what they want in a move reminiscent of FDR's court packing scheme in 1937.  The difference is that in 1937 there were enough principled members of the President's own party, the Democrats, who opposed his plan and kept it from happening.

Today, the situation appears to be a little different.  The President has been ignoring the law when it suited him, creating new law by Executive Order as he chose, and generally acting in an imperious and unconstitutional manner.  His party, instead of taking the high road and recognizing that a few short term political gains are not worth the potential destruction of our system of government are, instead, providing cover for him.

I don't know how the Republicans will act when they eventually regain power (which parties always do) but how do you respond to a party which doesn't govern by the rules agreed upon in advance?  Do you follow those rules when you have control, getting little done, and then lose ground when the other party is in control as they run roughshod over tradition and agreement?  Or do you abandon the rules just as they did and do what you want?  What then happens to the stability that the filibuster has injected into our system, a system that by design prevented a bare majority from making sweeping changes to our country?  I guess we'll have to see.

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