Senate Filibuster Rules Change Vote May Be Next Week

National   |   Steven Ertelt   |   May 10, 2005   |   9:00AM   |   WASHINGTON, DC

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by Steven Ertelt Editor
May 10, 2005

Washington, DC ( — The Senate may vote as early as next week on a filibuster rules change to allow up or down votes on President Bush’s pro-life judicial picks. Some senators, however, are still hoping to craft a last-minute deal to avoid a controversial showdown.

Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist said Tuesday that the Senate has two bills he wants to finish "and then we need to turn to 100 United States senators and move to the issue surrounding judges."

"To me, it’s common sense, and it has to do with principle, and that is that each of these nominees deserve an up-or-down vote on the floor of the United States Senate," Frist said, according to an AP story. "Confirm them or reject them, vote yes or no, but allow them the courtesy of a vote."

Harry Reid, the Nevada senator who leads the Democrats, said his party is ready for the battle.

"I want to be clear: We are prepared for a vote on the nuclear option," Reid said.

Reid also attacked Frist on Tuesday and said he was trying to set the stage for easy approval of Supreme Court nominees that President Bush knows won’t go over well with Democrats and abortion advocates.

"This fight is not about the seven radical nominations, it’s about clearing the way for a Supreme Court nominee who only needs 51 votes, not 60," Reid said Tuesday. "They want a Clarence Thomas, not a Sandra Day O’Connor or an Anthony Kennedy or a David Souter."

Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Arlen Specter, a Pennsylvania Republican who has been waffling on the filibuster issue, suggested the Senate could take up Bush’s judicial picks in the order his committee has approved them.

"I think it’s time to do that," Frist said, according to the AP report.

That would have former Interior Department lawyer William Myers, who wants a seat on the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in San Francisco, up first. Thomas Griffith’s nomination to the U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia would be next followed by Texas Supreme Court judge Priscilla Owen’s nomination to the 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals and California Supreme Court judge Janice Rogers Brown’s nomination to the D.C. court of appeals.

Meanwhile, a bipartisan group of senators, led by pro-life Sens. Trent Lott, a Mississippi Republican, and Ben Nelson, a Nebraska Democrat, are putting together a deal. Under its terms, Republicans would end their bid to change the filibuster rules and six Senate Democrats would agree to allow votes on four of the seven appeals court nominees halted by filibusters.

The six moderate Democrats would also pledge to support ending filibusters for all Bush judicial nominees except in “extreme circumstances."

However, pro-life groups may worry that the deal, which would last through the 2006 elections, would allow the Democrats to declare as "extreme" any nominees they opposed — including potential Supreme Court selections.

The agreement would be in writing, however, and Republicans could presumably back out of the deal and call for a rules change vote if Democrats break their word.

Sen. Mark Pryor, an Arkansas Democrat, told a news conference last Thursday that many senators wish to avoid a filibuster rules change fight and hope to finalize a deal.

Marking the four year anniversary of some of his nominations to federal appeals and district courts, President Bush on Monday asked the Senate to give his pro-life nominees an up or down vote.

"Nominees who have the support of a majority of the Senate should be confirmed," Bush said in a statement issued by the White House as he was wrapping up his five-day European tour. "Unfortunately, a minority of senators is blocking the will of the Senate."