To Filibuster or not Filibuster, That Is The Question!!

10 months ago Citizen#7 0

Currently the 48 Democrats and 52 Republican Senators have a showdown this week. Supreme Court Nominee Neil Gorsuch is up for a vote.

This is more or less the final chapter in the President Obama / Mitch McConnel / Merrick Garland / Harry Reid / Republican / Democrat Filibuster saga.

Let’s start by clarifying what a filibuster is. The word filibuster comes from the Dutch meaning “pirate” and refers to a senator stating his or her intention to block legislation by taking the floor of the Senate and speaking for an indefinite period of time preventing the objectionable vote from taking place. In the old days a Senator had to take the floor of the senate and talk for hours in an attempt to block a vote. The record is believed to be held by Strom Thurmond of S. Carolina who in 1957 spoke against a civil rights voting act for 24 hours and 18 minutes.

Today a Senator doesn’t have to take the floor as Thurmond did they can file objections to requests for consent to move measures and nominations to a floor vote (a threat to filibuster which is now just about as effective as an actual filibuster). Currently the only weapon to block a filibuster is “Cloture”. Cloture is a process of limiting debate on an issue or appointment by a vote of 3/5ths of the Senate (60 votes) to stop the debate. If the senate obtains the 60 required votes in Cloture the objectionable legislation / appointment is voted upon, the filibuster is over. There can only be one filibuster allowed and only one cloture vote allowed.

The term Nuclear Option is being discussed  and refers to a procedure wherein the Senate Chair, now Mitch McConnel R.-KY,  rules the validity of the filibuster as a constitutional question. By doing this he would force the full senate to immediately vote on the constitutionality of either continuing or eliminating the 3/5ths i.e. 60 votes required for passing legislation.

At this point the issue at hand of Supreme Court Justice Nominee Neil Gorsuch is going to force a showdown between Republicans who used their power to block then President Obama’s pick for the Supreme Court vacancy Merrick Garland from even reaching a vote by refusing to meet with him as they are constitutionally required to do “Advise and Consent”.  Democrats had no power to force McConnell and the Republican party to adhere to the standard of the past 200 plus years and Garland and by extension, President Obama and the Democratic party were not allowed to pick the next Supreme Court justice.

What hangs in the balance is more than just the Supreme Court selection. If the Senate Minority leader instructs his party to vote as a block preventing the 60 votes needed the Senate Majority leader will likely the Nuclear Option.

Once done there will be no need for bipartisanship, the party in power (51+ senators) the majority, will no longer need to listen or negotiate with the party out of power (fewer than 50 senators), the minority. This drastically changes our government.

This is not Democracy as we know it.

There are ways to avoid the showdown, President Trump could rescind his Nominee, the Republicans could allow the Democrats to successfully filibuster the Gorsuch nomination, the Democrats could vote for Gorsuch and hope that the next appointment to the Supreme Court will be made under a Democratic president, or the next Republican nominee would be a moderate pick.  All of these options seem unlikely.

In the past the Democrats used the Nuclear Option when Republicans obstructed President Obama’s federal court appointees an unprecedented number of times. Prior to McConnell’s leadership the filibuster wasn’t used nearly as often. At the time Harry Reid declared a constitutional question imposing the Nuclear Option on federal judge appointees Mitch McConnell said he would live to regret it.

Harry Reid is still alive and I don’t know if he regrets employing the nuclear option or not. McConnell hasn’t indicated he regrets the number of times he used the filibuster when he led the minority party, nor has he stated any remorse for blocking Merrick Garland’s nomination.

Neither party has anything to be proud of. Both parties have taken us to where we are now. It isn’t one or the other, BOTH parties have acted in ways that have essentially resulted in a government that gets little done for the people that elected them. This isn’t how our forefathers intended our government to work.

If we see politics as binary, a winner and a loser, WE American citizens lose. Politics is compromise, no one gets all that the want all the time. If the Senate initiates the Nuclear Option that will end. The need for negotiation, compromise, consideration for minority views will end. This isn’t a good outcome.

So who will blink? Will Republicans alter their position and walk back their past bad behavior and try and mend a nearly broken system? Will Democrats take the high road and vote on Gorsuch allowing the shift in the Supreme Court from neutral to conservative leaning majority to avoid the Republican threat of the nuclear option in hopes the next Supreme Court appointee will be more moderate?

If the nuclear option is employed to install Gorsuch as the next Supreme Court Justice there will be no winners.  Both parties will be at fault, both understand that political power shifts and the party in power today will be the party out of power tomorrow and they will both lose. We will be the biggest losers of all. Our government will no longer hear the voice of the minority and part of our democracy will be lost.

It’s likely that McConnell will limit the nuclear option to Supreme Court appointees basically an incremental step past the earlier Harry Reid i.e. Democratic invocation of the nuclear option. Still the voice of the minority be it democrat or republican will be lost.