Thursday, April 14, 2005

Nuclear Option

Our news sources and blogs are discussing the Nuclear Option of using Parliamentarian defaults in the Senate to overrule a ruling on the legitimacy of filibusters in the Senate on judicial nominees. If there were any serious argument to be made on behalf of the filibuster in the Senate, I’d say it would stand for judicial nominees more than anyone else, since widespread agreement on the supposedly neutral arbiters who interpret our laws seems more important to protecting rights than, say, the ability to filibuster Social Security changes.

The liberal blogs in particular, are very enthusiastic about any real discussion of the filibuster and what they perceive to be bi-partisan reason to do away with it. I couldn’t agree more, that a deal to throw out the filibuster all together would be good for liberalism.

Of course, this is a zero-sum game generally, and I don’t think you’ll get both intelligent and self-interested parties to agree, thinking it helps them more than the other guy (which is why this blog usually focuses on inefficiency, social cohesion, and other democratic benefits that won’t just represent zero-sum changes, but pluses for everyone). I also don’t think anyone’s going to ratify a deal to do away with the filibuster altogether (although using such a proposal as a piece of rhetoric on the Democrat’s behalf, I can’t say is a bad idea – but neither is stopping the Senate entirely).

And frankly, I’d be a bit concerned about any such deal. Once majoritarianism is in place in the Senate, and the Democrats ever look like they might take back power, I worry the Republicans would just insert the filibuster again – and without the filibuster in the first place, the Democrats couldn’t stop that rules change. This is why appreciation of the spirit of democracy is so important. In our current climate, I think arbitrarily throwing new rules up would be completely acceptable if it helped further an ideology’s goals – we need an ethic that entirely rejects arbitrary constitutionalism getting in the way of popular will.

But that’s mostly academic. The idea at hand is doing away with the judicial filibuster, and a pro-democracy change even on this self-interested-selected point, would be one I’d be happy to see.


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