- The Washington Times - Thursday, May 26, 2005

Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist hasn’t given up. The nuclear option — or the constitutional option, as Mr. Frist prefers to call it — is as viable today as it ever was. As leader of the Senate, he recently made clear, he will not hesitate to trigger the constitutional option, which would ban judicial filibusters, if the Democratic minority resumes the unprecedented, systematic filibuster campaign it waged during the 108th Congress (2003-04), when the minority party denied up-or-down votes to 10 appellate-court nominees.

This declaration is most welcome. In the immediate aftermath of the secretly negotiated deal among seven Democratic and seven Republican senators Monday evening, Mr. Frist made preliminary comments on the Senate floor. That reaction occurred as everyone was trying to ascertain what had happened in an atmosphere where conflicting understandings of the agreement were pervasive. Mr. Frist has since delivered his considered remarks, which are excerpted on today’s op-ed page. Those remarks appeared in a Wednesday evening speech — ‘Hold to Principle’ — that he delivered at the GOPAC 25th Anniversary Dinner.

Decrying the Democrats’ ‘leadership-led, partisan campaign of judicial obstruction by filibuster,’ Mr. Frist called the unprecedented campaign ‘a radical and dangerous departure’ that ‘realigned the separation of powers’ and ‘undermined the checks and balances as designed in the Constitution.’

Mr. Frist made it very clear where he stood regarding Monday evening’s deal arranged by the Gang of 14. ‘I was not a part of, nor do I endorse, their memorandum of understanding,’ he declared. He criticized the deal for the simple reason that it ‘falls short of the principle of up-or-down votes.’ He was equally clear about what he intends to do in response to likely efforts by Democrats to resume the judicial-filibuster campaign, which he characterized as ‘an utterly ideological power grab by the other party,’ adding that it was nothing more than ‘a tyranny of the minority.’ ‘No leader of principle — regardless of party — can let such obstruction stand,’ he asserted. ‘And let me say: No matter the price I pay, I won’t let judicial obstruction stand.’

Mr. Frist contrasted the constitutional duty of giving a judicial nominee an up-or-down vote with the insistence expressed by some that certain Senate procedures should not be changed. In Mr. Frist’s view, constitutional duty trumps Senate procedure every time.

It is well understood in Washington that the Senate majority leader is the toughest job in town because it has the most responsibility with the least amount of power — unlike the speaker of the House, who has equal responsibility and greater power. It is now clear, however, that Mr. Frist intends to use his principled leadership to get his job done: ‘So let me say this: Senate Republicans reserve the right to use the constitutional option. And we’ve demonstrated, if necessary, we will not hesitate to use it. We have the votes to use the constitutional option. If the Democrats’ campaign of judicial obstruction returns, we will not allow the Constitution to be sacrificed.’

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