May 23, 2005

This is not unqualified good news for Democrats. The filibuster remains an option for the future, and it may prevent the rubberstamping of a Clarence Thomas or an Antonin Scalia to the position of Chief Justice. Republican Senators also stood up to the Christian Right on this issue; the long-term ramifications of defying Dr. Dobson and his acolytes will be felt on future nominations. The agreement also affirms the principle that "advice and consent" entails the consultation with members of both parties before nomination, a proviso that Democrats can use in the future to justify any "extraordinary circumstance" triggering a filibuster.

It's also a defeat for Bill Frist, who clearly didn't have the backing of his party's rank-and-file, so that's cool as well. By allowing votes on some of the appellate nominees, the Democrats look reasonable and moderate, while forcing Snowe, Chafee, DeWine, et al., to take a position on the worthiness of Janice Brown and Patricia Owen that is really going to matter; the "threat" of the filibuster allowed them to vote for some of Bush's more extreme picks without fear that their vote would matter, a safety net that at least with some of these picks no longer exists. And lastly, keeping enough Democrats in line on future cloture votes was going to be more difficult than it was last year, when the party had four more Senators, so this deal strengthens Harry Reid enormously.

But the advantage of having a vote on the nuclear option was that if Frist lost, it would effectively act as a vote of confidence on Frist, as well as preventing Bush from stacking the appellate courts with the likes of Janice Brown. If Frist won, it would mean the beginning of the end of the filibuster, which would cause short-term pain for liberals, but as I wrote a week and a half ago, it would also allow the achievement of some wonderful progressive goals in the future. So I guess the best-case scenario would be for Bush to try to nominate some wack-job from Texas or Alabama to the Supreme Court, then have the Senate revisit this issue when more people are paying attention.

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