Reach Deal on Judicial Filibusters||
After weeks of wrangling over the so called "nuclear option," a proposal
to end Democrats' ability to filibuster judicial nominees, members of the U.S.
Senate finally reached an agreement.
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On the eve of a political confrontation that threatened to bring the work of
the U.S. Senate to a halt, a bipartisan group of senators struck a deal Monday
night, averting a "nuclear option" showdown and allowing a vote on a
handful of President Bush's controversial judicial nominees.
last minute deal, reached by seven Democrats and seven Republicans, allowed a
straight up-or-down vote on Priscilla Owen, who has been waiting for four years
for Senate confirmation to the New Orleans-based 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals.
Senators also will now vote on William Pryor Jr., nominated to the Atlanta-based
11th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, and Janice Rogers Brown for the U.S. Court
of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit.
Two other nominees, Henry
Saad and William Myers, were left out of the agreement and Democrats said they
would continue to oppose their appointment to the federal bench.
averted a vote planned for Tuesday that could have changed the Senate rules to
deny Democrats the ability to filibuster judicial nominees -- the so-called "nuclear
option." Had the rules been changed, Democrats had threatened to disrupt
Senate operations, effectively shutting down the body, by insisting all lengthy
bills be read aloud and all votes be taken. Usually these steps are skipped by
Monday's agreement allows Democrats to keep
the ability to filibuster but only under "extraordinary circumstances."
of the filibuster debate |
During President Bush's
first term, Democrats used the filibuster technique -- long speeches that prevent
a vote -- to block controversial judges President Bush nominated to be on important
Currently, it takes 60 out of 100 senators to end a filibuster,
and Republicans have 55 Senate seats -- a majority, but not the "supermajority"
necessary to end a filibuster.
The issue came to a head recently after
President Bush re-nominated judges blocked by Democrats during his first term.
Majority Leader Bill Frist, a Republican from Tennessee who controls the legislation
the Senate considers on the floor, began pushing for a vote on two of the judges:
Owen and Brown.
Democrats objected to Owen and Brown because of what they
call rigid ideological positions on issues such as gay rights, abortion and affirmative
have been used throughout the Senate's history. Southern senators, for example,
used a 57-day filibuster to stall passage of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, which
ended racial segregation in public facilities and the workplace.
eventually gathered enough votes to end the filibusters and approve the bill.
the 1930s, Louisiana Democratic Senator Huey Long became famous for his use of
the filibuster to block bills that he believed helped the rich at the expense
of the poor by reciting Shakespeare and reading recipes. He once held the floor
for 15 hours.
Former South Carolina Republican Senator Strom Thurmond holds
the record for the longest filibuster speech -- 24 hours and 18 minutes -- during
which he stalled voting on the Civil Rights Act of 1957.
part of the recent debate, Democrats argued that the Founding Fathers created
the filibuster rule to make sure that the majority party could not do whatever
it wanted, but rather had to find consensus and negotiate with the minority party.
Changing that rule, Democrats argued, would fundamentally change the atmosphere
of the Senate.
Frist, on the other hand, said the Senate has a constitutional
duty to either approve or reject the president's judicial nominees and not to
stall the voting process with long debates.
On Monday evening, 14 moderate
senators, led by Arizona Republican Senator John McCain and Nebraska Democratic
Senator Ben Nelson, reached the deal after several weeks of meetings. The group
emerged calling the accord in "the finest tradition of the Senate."
"We have kept the Republic," said Democratic West Virginia Senator
Robert Byrd, an ardent guard of the traditions of the Senate.
Senator Joseph Lieberman of Connecticut declared, "In a Senate that's become
increasingly partisan and polarized, the bipartisan center held."
Compiled for NewsHour Extra by Monica Villavicencio