Change the rules

Wednesday, November 26, 2003

Republicans and Democrats in the U.S. Senate each tried to use 30 hours of valuable time last week to grab the attention of next year's potential voters. The issue was labeled as a debate over the practice of filibustering -- or threatening to filibuster -- presidential nominees to the federal bench. The 30 hours sounded more like a never-ending political commercial for the political parties rather than an honest give and take over whether Senate rules need to be changed.

Currently, the rules require a super-majority of 60 votes to end a filibuster. In practice, this means that the fate of certain nominees hinges on a political litmus test rather than a straight up-or-down approval by a simple majority of 51 senators.

The rules have been used by both parties to steer the philosophical leanings of federal judges. In less than three years of the Bush administration, the Senate has confirmed 168 of the president's nominees, but Democrats are holding up four candidates whose views are deemed to be too conservative. Those 168 confirmations represent half the number of President Clinton's nominations that were approved in his entire eight-year presidency.

There is a simple solution: change the rules. By ending the 60-vote requirement for cloture, the constitutional advise-and-consent mandate would revert to a simple majority. But Republicans and Democrats are reluctant to give up the biggest hammer in the political toolbox for the minority party.

It's wrong that judicial nominees are used as political pawns. It's also wrong that the nation's 100 senators don't fix the rules to end the silliness.

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