The Jury Talks Back


NY Times Reconsiders Filibuster

Filed under: Uncategorized — Kevin M @ 9:36 am

On March 29, 2005, the NY Times ran an editorial defending the filibuster, and lamenting its own editorial short-sightedness during the Clinton years:

The Senate, of all places, should be sensitive to the fact that this large and diverse country has never believed in government by an unrestrained majority rule. Its composition is a repudiation of the very idea that the largest number of votes always wins out. The members from places like Rhode Island, Maine or Iowa know that their constituents are given a far larger say than people from New York simply by virtue of the fact that each state has two votes, regardless of population. Indeed, as a recent New Yorker article pointed out, the Democratic senators who have blocked that handful of judicial nominees actually represent substantially more Americans than the Republican majority that wants to see them passed.

While the filibuster has not traditionally been used to stop judicial confirmations, it seems to us this is a matter in which it’s most important that a large minority of senators has a limited right of veto. Once confirmed, judges can serve for life and will remain on the bench long after Mr. Bush leaves the White House. And there are few responsibilities given to the executive and the legislature that are more important than choosing the members of the third co-equal branch of government. The Senate has an obligation to do everything in its power to ensure the integrity of the process.

A decade ago, this page expressed support for tactics that would have gone even further than the “nuclear option” in eliminating the power of the filibuster. At the time, we had vivid memories of the difficulty that Senate Republicans had given much of Bill Clinton’s early agenda. But we were still wrong. To see the filibuster fully, it’s obviously a good idea to have to live on both sides of it. We hope acknowledging our own error may remind some wavering Republican senators that someday they, too, will be on the other side and in need of all the protections the Senate rules can provide.

How soon they forget.  Today, the Times runs two op-ed pieces against the “the segregationist’s tool”, and gives them prime links on the web site.  The worm begins its turn.

In Jean Edward Smith’s “Filibusters: The Senate’s Self-Inflicted Wound“,  the filibuster is thoroughly demonized, equating its practitioners to Klansmen and worse:

In the entire 19th century, including the struggle against slavery, fewer than two dozen filibusters were mounted. In F.D.R.’s time, the device was employed exclusively by Southerners to block passage of federal anti-lynching legislation. Between 1933 and the coming of the war, it was attempted only twice. Under Eisenhower and J.F.K., the pattern continued. In the eight years of the Eisenhower administration, only two filibusters were mounted. Under Kennedy there were four. The number more than doubled under Lyndon Johnson, but the primary issue continued to be civil rights. Except for exhibitionists, buffoons and white southerners determined to salvage racial segregation, the filibuster was considered off limits.

Pretty hard to have a civil conversation after that.  Unsurprisingly, she he calls for the Democrats to remove the filibuster from Senate rules.

In David R. RePass’ much calmer “Make My Filibuster“, Mr RePass argues that Reid and the Democrats should not use cloture as the test of a filibuster, but instead make the Republicans actually hold the floor.  He asserts that this would quickly end the practice, but offers no real evidence.

It is up to Mr. Reid. He can do away with the supermajority requirement for virtually all significant measures and return majority rule to the Senate. This is not to say that the Democrats should ride roughshod over the Republicans. Republicans should be included at all stages of the legislative process. However, with the daunting prospect of having to mount a real filibuster to demonstrate their opposition, Republicans may become much more willing to compromise.

Expect more of this, especially when the Obama budget dies the death of 1000 cuts in the Senate, amid largescale taxpayer protests.  Next up: Dissent and patriotism.


  1. Reminds me of the cartoon during the 2004 election. Bush and Kerry are in the boxing ring. Bush is relaxing against the ropes as Kerry is split in two, both Kerries knocking each other out.

    Comment by aunursa — 3/2/2009 @ 10:15 am

  2. Ahh, here it is… Kerry vs Kerry

    Should have one for NY Times vs NY Times…

    Comment by aunursa — 3/2/2009 @ 10:39 am

  3. The money quote was in their 2005 article:

    A decade ago, this page expressed support for tactics that would have gone even further than the “nuclear option” in eliminating the power of the filibuster. At the time, we had vivid memories of the difficulty that Senate Republicans had given much of Bill Clinton’s early agenda. But we were still wrong.

    So, were they wrong in 1995 AND 2009, but not in 2005? Or were they wrong about being wrong in 2005, but correct in 1995 and 2009?

    1995 – Bad Republicans filibustering Clinton – NY Times against filibuster.
    2005 – Good Democrats filibustering Republican judges – NY Times for filibuster.
    2009 – Bad Republicans may filibuster some of Obama programs – just like they fought to keep slavery! – NY Times against filibuster.

    Oh, that liberal media.

    Comment by carlitos — 3/2/2009 @ 11:58 am

  4. Republicans fought FOR slavery???
    Who knew?

    Comment by AD - RtR/OS — 3/2/2009 @ 6:02 pm

  5. Notice how they never mention that the deep policy divisions between the parties today are what make virtually every issue into a filibuster issue. They don’t mention the stakes, the seriousness of the conflict. And they suddenly are so very fond of majority rule.

    The Senate will adjust cloture to 57 or 58 votes at the first good opportunity, as I predicted. The Media is preparing the ground. I hope the Republicans are prepared to immediately walk out in protest. They will only have one shot.

    Comment by Amphipolis — 3/2/2009 @ 6:56 pm

  6. This post was linked at Powerline, Kevin. I think that’s the first big link this blog has gotten. Nicely done.

    Comment by Patterico — 3/2/2009 @ 8:25 pm

  7. and remember: “Dissent is the highest form of racism.”

    Comment by redc1c4 — 3/2/2009 @ 11:29 pm

  8. A great post. But Jean Smith is not a “she.” He’s a man.

    Comment by Mike Lion — 3/3/2009 @ 6:27 am

  9. Ooops. I guess the “Edward” should have been a clue. Fixed.

    Comment by Kevin Murphy — 3/3/2009 @ 8:38 am

  10. I’m not exactly clear, but I think the Senate Rules require a 2/3 vote to amend cloture, which is currently at 3/5 of the Senate.

    It’s moot, because the NYT finds it convenient to disregard the Senate rules at this point in time, and surely Specter, Snowe, and Collins will vote to end it, along with 6 other willing accomplices.

    It’s for the children.

    Comment by steve miller — 3/5/2009 @ 9:08 pm

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