Saturday, February 12, 2005

End the "Gentleman's Filibuster"

"Filibuster" is one of those odd words that most people are familiar with. It conjures images of the Senate chamber in the 1950s with some Senator reading from a telephone book to block a piece of Senate business.

The sad fact is that used to be a filibuster. Today we have the "gentleman's filibuster" - and it is being used to obstruct business in the Senate, particularly when it comes to judicial nominees.

Traditionally the filibuster was a measure of last resort. It is a drastic measure intended to prevent a particular piece of business from coming to the floor. It signaled one side's commitment to blocking that piece of business. The catch was that they actually had to get down on the floor and actually filibuster. Basically, it's a contest to see who will blink first.

With the "gentleman's filibuster", all a Senator has to do is signal his intent to filibuster and that blocks that particular bill (or nominee, as the case may be) from a floor vote. The problems with this rule are so axiomatic, I'm not sure I can explain it any more clearly.

Let me try: Imagine you're at an auction, and an item which you wish to purchase comes up for bid. Now, in a real auction, I would actually have to bid against you to win the right to purchase the item for an indicated price. But let's say Sotheby's rules were like the Senate's. Say when that item came up for a bid, I signaled my intent to pay 10 million dollars for it. Recognizing how serious I am about purchasing this item, you decide not to bid. And then I walk up and purchase the item for a dollar.

This is what the "gentleman's filibuster" allows Senators to do. It allows them to block legislation or nominees without going through the tiresome business of actually blocking it. I think the potential for abuse is fairly clear. It allows even one Senator to hold any piece of business hostage.

This is very un-republican (remember, the United States is not repeat not a democracy) and the practice should be abolished.

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