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Conservative Fury Greets 'Centrist Deal' on Filibusters

  • Susan Jones Morning Editor
  • 2005 24 May
Conservative Fury Greets 'Centrist Deal' on Filibusters
( - An eleventh-hour Senate deal to avoid the nuclear option -- thus preserving the judicial filibuster -- has many conservative Republicans crying betrayal.

A group formed specifically to lobby against the judicial filibuster said the deal dishonors the Constitution, ignores an election, and forgets the four judicial nominees who withdrew their names as a result of Democrat obstruction -- Miguel Estrada, Carolyn Kuhl, Claude Allen and Charles Pickering.

"Today's deal has winners and losers," said the National Coalition to End Judicial Filibusters, "but everyone should be ashamed."

The Coalition said the biggest losers are Republican centrists - including Sens. John McCain and John Warner -- "who showed a complete disconnect with their constituents.

"They have rewritten the Constitution," the Coalition said: "Now all future presidents will have to do what no president has previously done -- determine whether a nominee can get 60 votes rather than 51."

Under the deal signed by a bipartisan group of 14 senators (seven Republicans and seven Democrats), three federal appeals court nominees will get an up-or-down vote by the full Senate, ensuring their confirmation: They include Priscilla Owen of Texas, Janice Rogers Brown of California, and William H. Pryor Jr. of Alabama.

But Democrats may filibuster other judicial nominees (including Supreme Court nominees) in what they call "extraordinary circumstances."

After the deal was announced, Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) said Senate Democrats will continue to block the nominations of William Myers and Henry Saad.

According to press reports, the deal caught Senate leaders by surprise: Reid reportedly described the deal as a "significant victory for our country" and said he would sleep easy for the first time in weeks.

But Majority Leader Bill Frist (R-Tenn.) said he was disappointed in some respects. Frist has insisted all along that all nominees who make it out of committee to the Senate floor deserve and up-or-down vote.

'Bailout and betrayal'

Dr. James Dobson, chairman of Focus on the Family, called the Senate agreement a "complete bailout and betrayal by a cabal of Republicans and a great victory for united Democrats."

Under the deal, he noted, only three of President Bush's blocked nominees will get an up-or-down vote - "and it's business as usual for all the rest," Dobson said.

"The rules that blocked conservative nominees remain in effect, and nothing of significance has changed...The unconstitutional filibuster survives in the arsenal of Senate liberals."

As unhappy as they are, conservative groups generally praised Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist (R-Tenn.) for fighting to defend what Dobson called the "vital principle of basic fairness." The deal was brokered without Frist's assistance, and he has no choice but to go along with it.

On the other hand, Dobson said he's sure that voters will remember the Democrats and Republicans who "betrayed their trust."

'Sad day'

Gary Bauer, president of American Values, said the deal is a sad day for the nation: "The desire of millions of Americans to restore balance to our federal courts has been thwarted behind closed doors by 14 senators."

He noted that only three of President Bush's appointees are guaranteed an up-or-down vote "under this sellout."

"Radical social change will continue to be forced on the American people by liberal courts committed to same-sex marriage, abortion on demand and hostility to religious expression," Bauer warned.

"The Republicans who lent their names to this travesty have undercut their president as well as millions of their most loyal voters. Shame on them all," Bauer said.
Liberals see downside

Liberal advocacy groups had mixed feelings. The Alliance for Justice said it had no desire to see the nuclear option invoked -- but it also expressed disappointment that three "extremist nominees" are likely to be confirmed as a result of the deal.

People For The American Way President Ralph G. Neas called the deal a "major defeat for the radical right."

He expressed relief that the "unprincipled nuclear option" has been rejected and the filibuster has been preserved -- meaning "both political parties will have a say in who is appointed to the nation's highest courts."

But Neas also found fault with the deal, saying he is "deeply concerned" that the deal may lead to confirmation of appeals court judges that liberals oppose.

"We will urge Senators to vote against confirmation of nominees who have not demonstrated a commitment to upholding individual liberties and the legal and social justice accomplishments of the past 70 years," Neas said.

"It is time for President Bush to recognize what the senators who negotiated this agreement know -- that the Senate is the president's constitutional partner in appointing federal judges. It is time for the White House to abandon its confrontational strategy on judges, and to work with senators from both parties to find some consensus nominees, especially in the case of expected Supreme Court vacancies," Neas said.