- The Washington Times - Monday, February 17, 2003

Today is President's Day, and if we had our druthers those weary workers who have the holiday off would be able to linger over their morning papers and read how Senate Democrats spent the weekend obstructing the appointment of an able Hispanic to a prominent judgeship. In between sit-com marathons and mattress-sale commercials during the day, voters might watch first-hand as John Edwards and Patrick Leahy argue that senators simultaneously know too much and not enough about Miguel Estrada. They could hear Charles Schumer defame this Honduran immigrant, who consistently received outstanding employee reviews from the Clinton Justice Department as a "stealth missile" from the "right-wing's deepest silo." And when the Senate Democrats' flimsy objections to Mr. Estrada quickly run out, listeners could hear into the late, late night yet more eulogies by Robert Byrd to Aeschylus and Aeschines and his pet dog, Billy Byrd.
This, you see, is what happens in a filibuster, a parliamentary procedure in which a cabal of senators can delay a vote on an issue indefinitely simply by talking and talking. Although Mr. Estrada has ample backing to be confirmed all 51 Republicans and at least three Democrats say they will vote for him it takes 60 votes to force debate to end.
Filibusters, much less real filibusters, are extremely rare. Over the last two decades, they have been all but replaced by the "gentleman's filibuster," in which merely the threat of hog-tying the Senate's schedule is enough to scuttle the issue in question. In the Estrada affair, Majority Leader Bill Frist seemed to end all that with his warning that Republicans would force the Democrats to follow through with their delaying tactics. "If they want to stay through the weekend, we'll stay through the weekend," he said Tuesday.
But the Senate pretends to be nothing if not gentlemanly, and on Friday Mr. Frist backed down from that threat. That chamber's week-long President's Day holiday would take place as scheduled, he announced. "If I thought that the Democrats, by keeping them here for three or four days, would allow an up-or-down vote, I would have kept everybody here," Mr. Frist said. "But there is nothing to be gained. And, therefore, since the recess is scheduled and trips scheduled all around the world and people have made plans, I'm going to respect the recess. I've got to respect the recess or my colleagues are not going to put up with me very much."
Hold on a minute. Last we checked, a filibuster is supposed to be an inconvenience. That's the consequence of performing the parliamentary equivalent of going nuclear. Tee-times get missed; fund raisers, cancelled. While we appreciate that Mr. Frist hopes to continue some semblance of goodwill in the Senate, giving in to colleagues' holiday plans isn't cordial it's wimpy.
Despite this, Mr. Frist seems determined not to let Mr. Estrada's judicial appointment fade away. "If the Democrats want to send this message of obstruction, obstruction, obstruction," he said, "I think it is important for the American people to see." Mr. Frist is right, of course. But what better way to see it than in the well of the Senate itself?

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