- The Washington Times - Friday, May 9, 2003

Republicans plan to begin the process today of using their so-called “nuclear option” to end the Democratic filibusters of judicial nominees by changing Senate rules governing how many votes are required to break such blockades.Majority Leader Bill Frist, Tennessee Republican, plans to introduce the rules change today, according to two Senate aides involved in the Republican planning.Currently, 60 votes are required to break a filibuster, which is also called invoking cloture. The resolution, co-sponsored by several senators, will require 60 votes only in the first attempt at invoking cloture. In each attempt after that, the vote requirement will drop by three until it reaches a simple majority of 51 votes. This rule change will apply only to executive nominations, not legislative business.Republicans hope the plan will be greeted favorably by some Democrats and thus increase their chances of getting it passed.The idea was first floated by Sen. Zell Miller, Georgia Democrat, in an Op-Ed piece in the Wall Street Journal several months ago. Mr. Miller has consistently voted with Republicans to end the filibusters. In 1995, a similar plan was introduced by Democratic Sens. Joe Lieberman of Connecticut and Tom Harkin of Iowa. Both sides have referred to the plan as the “nuclear option” because it has such potential to wreak havoc in the Senate and even further intensify partisan discord over judicial nominees. What makes the plan even more incendiary is that Republicans are considering parliamentary maneuvers that would allow them to make the rule change with a simple majority of votes.The issue has come to a head in the past several months with Democrats conducting simultaneous filibusters on two of President Bush’s nominees — Washington lawyer Miguel Estrada, nominated to the U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia, and Texas Supreme Court Justice Priscilla Owen, nominated to the 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals.Today marks two years since Mr. Estrada and Judge Owen were nominated by Mr. Bush. The president plans to talk about the problem in a Rose Garden speech today, calling the judicial-nominating process “broken.”“The Senate has a constitutional responsibility to vote on nominees,” said one White House official last night, adding that the process “is worse than it’s ever been before.”Meanwhile, Democrats on the Senate Judiciary Committee narrowly failed to spike one of Mr. Bush’s nominees in committee yesterday, setting the stage for yet another filibuster on the Senate floor. The panel voted 10-9 along party lines to approve California Judge Carolyn Kuhl to the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals over the objection of all committee Democrats and both of her home-state senators. Democratic leaders declined to say whether they will filibuster Judge Kuhl’s nomination, but Sen. Charles E. Schumer, New York Democrat, said last week that it is a good indication that nominees will be blocked if they come out of committee on a strict party-line vote.Democrats and liberal interest groups have criticized Judge Kuhl for questioning — as a lawyer in the Reagan Department of Justice — the settlement of Roe v. Wade, the landmark Supreme Court decision enshrining a woman’s right to an abortion. They have also said she is insensitive to women because she ruled against a breast cancer patient who sued the employer of a man who observed her being examined.Two senators on the committee flirted with the other side, but in the end voted with their parties.Sen. Dianne Feinstein, California Democrat, earlier signaled her support for Judge Kuhl. But yesterday, she voted to kill Judge Kuhl’s nomination in committee.In particular, Mrs. Feinstein noted concerns about Judge Kuhl’s views on abortion and civil rights.”I simply cannot make the leap of faith that Judge Kuhl will suddenly reverse course and evaluate cases on these key issues impartially and without regard to her strongly held personal beliefs,” Mrs. Feinstein said.Sen. Arlen Specter, Pennsylvania Republican, also said he was troubled by some aspects of Judge Kuhl’s record. But in the end, Mr. Specter said her nomination should be decided on the floor by the full Senate. He voted her out of committee, but said he might still vote against her on the Senate floor.

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