Jimmy Stewart fans will probably remember the moment in the classic movie, “Mr. Smith Goes to Washington,” where Stewart’s title character explains, “Now, I had some pretty good coaching last night, and I find that if I yield only for a question or a point of order or a personal privilege, that I can hold this floor almost until doomsday. In other words, I’ve got a piece to speak, and blow hot or cold, I’m going to speak it.”
It’s the filibuster, the practice by which a senator may talk as long as biologically possible to block legislation. Under U.S. Senate Rule 22, he or she can be stopped only if 60 senators vote to silence him.
However, Republicans, who control 55 of 100 Senate seats, now are threatening what’s called the “nuclear option” for President Bush’s judicial nominees who have been stalled by Democratic filibusters.
The GOP would use its Senate majority to rewrite Rule 22, to end filibusters with just 51 votes, for judicial nominees. That would mean they could almost at will overturn Democratic judicial filibusters. It especially would be applied to nominees to fill one or more vacancies expected soon on the U.S. Supreme Court.
We’re sympathetic to the GOP’s desire to stop Democrats’ purely partisan obstructionism on judicial nominees.
However, the filibuster, although not a part of the Constitution, is a part of our system of ordered liberty that dates to the country’s founding. The Senate was designed to be the body of slow and somber deliberations, a check on hasty runaway majority impulses that might come from the House, whose number and terms of office made it more directly responsive to the people. The filibuster was designed to slow down actions to make sure they’re well-considered.
And if and when Republicans again become a minority, they likely would regret having changed a rule that gives the minority some power. Better that persuasion, not ending a time-honored Senate rule, should be used to get nominees confirmed.