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Rules or Results 

Column by Senator Trent Lot  - For GulfCoastNews.com       Filed 4/15/05                           

             Mississippians have sent me to Washington to get results, not to make statements.  That’s why I want to change Senate rules so that we can put federal judges on the bench.  Senate rules are stymieing results for the American people – creating scores of judicial vacancies and keeping good men, women and minority judges off the bench.  It’s time for change.

            Within the Senate, a body of just 100 people often referred to as the world’s most exclusive club, it would be easy for me to talk about Senate “traditions,” often considered sacred and beyond change.  It’s true that the Senate, as the Founding Fathers designed it, is a more calm, cordial and consensus-oriented body.  Yet, even with its longstanding traditions, the Senate always has had Constitutionally-provided power over its rules, and the Senate has indeed changed its rules periodically to protect them from abuse.

            Right now, a few Senators are absolutely abusing the rules, employing the filibuster provision to keep judicial nominees from even being brought to the Senate floor for a fair up-or-down vote.  Though they depict any rule change as drastic – a “nuclear” option – it is this minority of Senators who already have gone “nuclear,” drastically altering Senate tradition. 

            That’s because for 200 years of Senate history the filibuster rule, which is a stalling tactic, was not applied to judicial nominees who had majority support.  Judicial nominees generally were considered on merit, without partisan considerations, but no more. 

              The problems started more than 15 years ago and culminated recently with the shameless sack of lies thrown at Mississippi’s own Judge Charles Pickering, simply because he was a conservative Christian.  The attacks against him, though discredited, devolved the confirmation process to new lows.  Today, dozens of distinguished men, women and minorities are being filibustered by liberals because they might make conservative rulings against abortion, same-sex marriage or assisted suicide.

            It has to stop.  People outside the Washington beltway don’t care about endless debates about Senate parliamentary rules; they want results.  The federal case backlog is delaying and denying justice to many Americans.  Whether liberal or conservative, most fair-minded Americans would agree that every judicial nominee, regardless of ideology, deserves an up-or-down vote by the U.S. Senate – a vote by your representatives.  Now what’s so “nuclear” about that?

            The fact is, it’s not a “nuclear” option but a Constitutional option.  A “yes” or “no” vote by the Senate is as fair, conventional and Constitutional as it gets.  With two Senators for every state, the Senate has equal representation.  That’s what the framers of our Constitution intended.  That’s why they gave the Senate exclusive powers.  They bestowed the Senate with Constitutional authority to confirm Presidential judicial appointments, not as a political weapon, but as part of the Senate’s special advise-and-consent duties.  We are responsible for confirming federal judges, regardless of politics.

            And that’s all that I and the other Senators who support changing Senate rules want – to do our job to put judges in place.  It takes 60 votes to stop a filibuster.  If we specify that judicial nominees can pass with a simple majority vote of 51 or more, the filibuster tactic would be negated.  Virtually every judicial nominee on the calendar would get a vote, and probably be confirmed.

            Let me emphasize that this rule change would pertain only to Presidential judicial nominees.  Contrary to some very loosely and poorly-constructed newspaper editorials, our proposal does not do away with a filibuster as a way to oppose regular Senate legislation, and it certainly doesn’t scrap entirely the filibuster.  We’re just compelling the Senate to go back to its traditional way of doing things and not apply filibusters to what is supposed to be a nonpartisan judicial confirmation process.

            The Senate isn’t a fancy, exclusive, uncompromising club with fraternal rules.  It works for the American people, with the U.S. Constitution as its only standard.  When the Senate’s rules actually are  keeping Americans’ business from getting done, then we know it’s time to change those rules, just as our forefathers have done for more than 200 years.  And there’s nothing nuclear about that.

Senator Lott welcomes any questions or comments about this column. 

Write to: U.S. Senator Trent Lott, 487 Russell Senate Office Building, Washington, D.C. 20510 (Attn: Press Office) or Email: senatorlott@lott.senate.gov

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