Wednesday, May 18, 2005

How many presidential and senatorial elections must Republicans win before the Democratic Party accepts the fact that elections have consequences?

George W. Bush won the presidency in 2000. Four years later, with the prospect of several Supreme Court nominations an issue in the campaign, Mr. Bush increased his vote total by nearly 25 percent, winning re-election by more than 3 million votes.

Meanwhile, in 2002 — for the first time at least since the 17th Amendment in 1913 provided for direct popular election of senators — the party holding the White House recaptured majority control of the Senate in a midterm election. The party holding the White House party usually loses Senate seats in bunches in midterm elections. Four years on, after the Democratic minority had systematically engaged in obstructionist filibustering of 10 appellate-court nominations, Republicans swept five Democratic seats in the South on their way to increasing their Senate majority from 51 to 55 members. In a race in which the primary issue was Senate Minority Leader Tom Daschle’s role as chief obstructionist to President Bush’s judicial nominees, Republicans defeated the three-term South Dakota Democrat.

Democrats have put various “compromises” on the table to persuade six Republicans to oppose Senate Majority Leader William Frist’s call for a vote to prohibit judicial filibusters. Within all these offers, the Democrats’ non-negotiable demand has been an insistence on the right to filibuster judicial nominees under “extreme or extraordinary cases.” In return for Democrats’ allowing an up-or-down vote on three or four (or fewer, depending on the Democratic offer) of the 10 nominees filibustered during the 108th Congress (2003-04), Republicans would have to commit themselves to support the right of Democrats to filibuster throughout the 109th Congress (2005-06). The Democrats would determine which nominations represented “extreme or extraordinary cases.”

Consider this reasonable scenario: In the event Chief Justice William Rehnquist retires after the court’s current session, Mr. Bush would elevate a like-mined associate justice as the chief, and fill the vacancy on the court with a conservative. This would not change the ideological makeup of the court at all.

Nevertheless, it is inconceivable that Senate Democrats would resist the intense pressure exerted upon them by the abortion lobby and other left-wing interest groups. They would almost certainly declare that either one — and probably both — of the nominees, whoever they were, represented “extreme or extraordinary cases,” triggering the filibuster. Under no circumstances should such an outrageous “compromise” be considered by any Republican.

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