Nightmare Visions of a World Without Filibusters


Reporting from a "Save the Filibuster" rally at Georgetown Law School, The Weekly Standard's Matt Continetti describes an exchange between Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) and a pack of excitable law students:

"Most of Bill Clinton's [court] nominees tended to be moderate," Schumer said. But Bush's picks–again he pointed–were "far out." He gave some examples.

"One said that slavery was God's gift to white people," he said.


"One said that the purpose of a woman was to be subjugated to her man."

More boos.

"One said"–he paused, barely containing his shock–"there should be . . . no zoning laws."

The crowd emitted a collective gasp.

Whole thing here. (sub. req.)

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  1. I don’t know which of the double posts will be deleted, but here’s hoping my comment stays. Anyhow, here’s what I have to say about filibusters:

    Mr. Chairman, I’d like to read the following into the record:

    Aaron Aadanowitz 423-7689
    Aaron Aaronov 525-9103
    Aaron Aaronowitz 563-4817
    Aaron T. Aaronowitz 245-1187

  2. some guy on madison and 62nd asked me today if i wanted to help save the fillibuster. i said it was in no danger, but thanks anyway.

    he called me a republican cocksucker. i told him i was no republican, thank, you very much.

  3. C’mon, anyone actually beleive any judicial nominee actually said that crap?

    No wonder I watch cartoons every night, they’re the only thing that makes sense anymore.

    Live free, fight or fall.

  4. You know, one would hope the Senator from Brooklyn is aware that one of the reasons for NY’s insanely high rents is prohibitively restrictive zoning laws.

  5. Bob Balster, 546-7871
    Bruce Balster, 768-7879
    Chuck Balster, 557-8090
    Dorothy Balster, 642-4635
    Gretchen Balster, 657-6811

  6. sounds like it was a focus group

  7. “One said that slavery was God’s gift to white people,”

    Yea, and Justice Ginsberg said she was in favor of pedophilia.

  8. Well, he said, the corners of his mouth curling upward into a faintly sinister grin, “Almost everything that happens in Washington ends up being good for lawyers.”

    Truer words were never spoken. And herein lies the greatest danger posed by the beast.

  9. At least I think that’s what the poster whose name we cannot say told me.

  10. As one of the more idiotic residents of the village, whose name is it we cannot say …

    Jean Bart
    Gary Gunnels
    The Merovingian
    gaius marius

    … or someone else. Jes’ wundrin’.

    Free Minds, Free Labor


  11. It rhymes with sillyday.

  12. To get serious for a moment: Zoning laws are among my biggest pet peeves. Right up there with farm subsidies, drug prohibition, the Patriot Act, and social engineering via the tax code. If the only effect of ending the filibuster was to repeal zoning laws I’d be unambiguously in favor of it.

    Here’s a compromise: The Dems can filibuster judicial nominees, but they have to do the old school filibuster. The filibuster shouldn’t just be a procedural objection to holding a vote, they should actually have somebody on the Senate floor talking for 24 hours at a time. Send John Kerry to the sauna for a few hours to thoroughly dehydrate him, then have him blather on about whatever he wants. When Kerry’s done, somebody else can take over.

    Even funnier would be if the filibusterers skipped the dehydration, and halfway through the phone book a dark stain appeared on the front of the suit.

    If the Dems are serious about this, then surely the issues at stake are worth a 24 hour shift on the Senate floor with a phone book and lawn mower manual. Maybe they could get US citizenship for Kiefer Sutherland and get him elected to the US Senate. I hear he specializes in 24 hour shifts.

  13. Ah … got it.



  14. I’m not sure which I find more humorous: Schumer saying those things or the crowd’s reaction to them.

    I’m with you thoreau: enough with pussy-ass filibuster-lite, either you care enough to do it for real or STFU and get outta the way!

  15. I thought Kerry was already thoroughly dehydrated. What would the sauna do, reduce him to powder?

  16. Chuck Balster, 557-8090


  17. Are people on here pro or anti fillibuster, tony blair got rid of the british equivlent, which imho was a bad day for britian (as for the most part it was used to limit government power, opposed to strengthen it), does it work in some diffrent way in the US, i would of thought the average reasonite would like any process which stops goverenments passing even more bloody leglisation.

  18. I would assume most of us don’t really have a problem with the filibuster, but I agree with thoreau that they should do it the old-school way where they actually have to hold up the vote by standing there and running their mouth for hours and hours on end…

  19. And dhex – where do you live that someone on the street would ask you that? Here in AZ, we don’t talk politics on the street much. Of course, that’s partly because we’re a vast suburban sprawl in Phx and drive everywhere (which I’m sure joe loves to here!), but still…

  20. B.L.
    The filibuster is used to prevent the passage of legislation that enjoys majority support. ‘Old style’ filibusters prevented the Senate from doing anything else as the rules allowed a senator to keep speaking as long as he was on his feet (subject to a 2/3 override). However, as has been stated the Senate changed the rules to allow itself to proceed to other business in the event of a filibuster, and senators are not required to actually keep speaking. Speaking as a libertarian, but not for libertarians, I’m against pretty much everything the government wants to do (as well as most everything it already does), so I’m in favor of anything that prevents the Senate for doing stuff.

    Re: Old Style filibusters
    Here in MI, regardless of what church one attends, the football is the true religion of most natives. When I was in HS back in the 70’s, coaching positions had to be filled from the teaching ranks. The perverse result being, coaches were hired to coach sports but were required to teach a class. I tell you all this because I took American History from the assistant football coach, who once told us that Senators sometimes resulted to having catheters inserted so the could collect their urine in a bag and keep speaking.

  21. Warren-

    That sounds so wacky and ridiculous that I can actually believe that a Senator would do it.

  22. i think in the UK, it was mainly done in the house of lords, most of whom proberbly have to ware a cather any way.

  23. The old style filibuster inconvenienced our “representatives”. Can’t have that, now, can we?

  24. I dont understand… why can’t the Democrats just filibuster the attempt to end filibusters?

  25. Because the Republicans can change the rules of the Senate with just a majority vote, and they have 55 out of 100 seats. I support the filibuster in general, but the Democrats are almost forcing the Republicans to adopt the rule change. I think it would be best for the country if the Dems just backed down and the so called “nuclear option” doesn’t have to be implemented. But I don’t see it shaking out that way.

  26. I don’t like the filibuster. Am I the only libertarian that likes to see weird shit happen? The status quo is so bad that change can be good. Anyway, govt. is so stupid that it might as well be entertaining. Maybe I’m just cynical.

    I agree with the others, though, that the real filibuster should be used. How many of those millionaire senators would be willing to put up with the discomfort–probably none.

  27. Because the Republicans can change the rules of the Senate with just a majority vote

    As I understand it, that matter is actually in dispute. Supposedly the Senate’s rules require a 2/3 majority for rule changes. So various people are advancing 2 distinct arguments:

    1) That the Senate’s rules don’t actually allow judicial filibusters. I’m certainly not a student of the Senate’s incredibly elaborate rules, but some people (who supposedly know better than me) claim that the rule allowing for filibusters only applies when legislation is being considered, and not when judicial nominees are being considered. Whatever you might think of it, that’s the claim.

    Anyway, if the rules don’t actually allow judicial filibusters, then they don’t need a 2/3 majority to change the rules. Apparently what they need is for the presiding officer (Dick Cheney, since the Constitution says that the VP is President of the Senate) to issue a ruling on the proper interpretation of the rules.

    They might also need a majority of the Senators to concur with his ruling. The articles that I’ve read all say that some Republican Senators are uneasy with abolishing judicial filibusters, and the implication is that if enough of them defect on this matter and a majority oppose the “nuclear option” then it won’t go through.

    Anyway, all of that is contingent on the arcane rules of the Senate.

    2) Some people go further. They claim that changing the rules only by a supermajority means that previous Senates can tie the hands of subsequent Senates, and there’s nothing in the Constitution that empowers the Senate to do this. This argument implies that rule changes should only need a simple majority. Or at least that rules passed by previous Senates should be changeable by a simple majority. (I suppose that a simple majority of the Senate could still vote to tie its own hands until the next election under that argument.)

    Anyway, it all gets down to complicated rules and procedures, but in the end I don’t think anything will come of it. I think that some of the GOP Senators will get nervous about what might happen some day when they are again in the minority. Given how long a Senate career can last, that’s a very real concern for some of them.

  28. Can’t the Democrats filibuster the vote to eliminate the filibuster?

  29. Can’t the Democrats filibuster the vote to eliminate the filibuster?

    I think the way it would work is that somebody would be doing a filibuster and then a Republican would make a motion to tend it. Cheney would rule that under the proper interpretation of the Senate’s rules this motion can pass with a simple majority and it would be over.

    In other words, Cheney, as the presiding officer would simply declare that there can’t be a filibuster if the majority says so.

  30. As they go through the phone book, I look forward to:

    “Johnson, Navin R.; sounds like typical asshole”

  31. I hate the Republicans more and more with each passing day. But these whiney little twats are full of shit championing “checks and balances”. Their only concern is that THEIR party isn’t in power at the moment.

  32. I used to live in Houston, Texas, which has no zoning laws. It’s wonderful. Wouldn’t change it. Any time the City Council gets it in their head to gin up some zoning laws, it gets loudly shouted down to the point where Houston politicians are too scared to even mention the word “zoning.”

  33. “You know, one would hope the Senator from Brooklyn is aware that one of the reasons for NY’s insanely high rents is prohibitively restrictive zoning laws.”

    Actually, it would be more accurate to say that “one of the reasons for NY’s insanely high rents is restrictive zoning laws IN THE SUBURBS.”

    Looked at as a whole, the number of units that can be developed in NYC under its zoning is roughly similar to what the market would build without any zoning, maybe even a little higher. On the other hand, absent zoning, the suburbs of Westchester, Lon Gisland, and north Jersey would have many times the number of housing units as under their zoning regimes.

  34. Lowdog,

    “Here in AZ, we don’t talk politics on the street much. Of course, that’s partly because we’re a vast suburban sprawl in Phx and drive everywhere (which I’m sure joe loves to here!)”

    One the driving forces behind mid-century sprawl planning was the desire to eliminate the practice of people gathering spontaeously in public spaces.

    Arthur Levitt, of Levittown fame, wrote about wanting to put working people in single family homes so there wouldn’t be common areas for them to meet.

  35. Real Bill sayeth, “I don’t like the filibuster. Am I the only libertarian that likes to see weird shit happen? The status quo is so bad that change can be good. Anyway, govt. is so stupid that it might as well be entertaining. Maybe I’m just cynical.”

    I like to see “weird shit” as much as the next gawker, but, the problem is, that “weird shit” typically results in more of my liberties and my money being taken from me.

    I’m in the whole “no government action is good government action” camp. While I hate the status quo, it’s quite obvious that neither the dems or the reps have any intention of doing anything to improve the liberty situation; quite the opposite. As such, yes, I prefer the status quo theft and regulation over even more theft and regulation. So, anything that thwarts the actions of politicians is fine in my book. If they wanna spend their days haggling over judicial nominees, well, great! That means they won’t have as much time to craft new laws to steal more of my shit.

  36. Technically, thoreau, each Congress is “new.” That’s why they refer to each Congress as the umpty-hundredth Congress. That means it is impossible for a previous Senate to bind the current Senate, because Senate rules expire when the Congress adjourns.

    I think at the beginning of each Senate there is a motion to continue to the rules of the last Senate gavelled through by acclamation, and off they go, but there is absolutely no reason why the Senate can’t set its own rules, and change them, by majority vote. That’s how the damn things are adopted in the first place.

  37. “Arthur Levitt, of Levittown fame, wrote about wanting to put working people in single family homes so there wouldn’t be common areas for them to meet.”

    joe, if this is indeed true, then he was wrong. I grew up in a “Levittown” in Bowie, Maryland. Neighbor relations were pretty tight. People knew each other, and parents looked out for each others’ kids. There were block parties. At the same time we weren’t stacked on top of each other and had comfortable zones of privacy.

    Today, though, is a much different story.

  38. Redefining rules to avoid supermajority requirements is an old, old, trick with some mighty roots. The US Constitution contains language to the effect that “The Ratification of the Conventions of nine States, shall be sufficient for the Establishment of this Constitution between the States so ratifying the Same.” (Article VII)

    This, however, conflicts with the then law of the land – the Articles of Confederation. The Articles required UNANIMOUS consent of the states to be changed or put aside.

    “And the Articles of this Confederation shall be inviolably observed by every State, and the Union shall be perpetual; nor shall any alteration at any time hereafter be made in any of them; unless such alteration be agreed to in a Congress of the United States, and be afterwards confirmed by the legislatures of every State.”

    As it turned out, all the states did ratify, but not in the last case until 3 years after the Constitution took effect under the Articles-violating rules. Technically, most of Washington’s first term was illegal.

  39. “but some people (who supposedly know better than me) claim that the rule allowing for filibusters only applies when legislation is being considered”

    There is no “rule allowing for filibusters . . . when legislation is being considered.” What there *is* is a rule that provides for the limitation of debate upon the vote of 60% “of the Senators duly chosen and sworn.” In the absence of such a vote, debate is unlimited, regardless of whether the business at hand is executive (i.e., nominations and treaties) or legislative. (Before 1917, there was no provision for ending debate at all, so debate went on as long as anyone wanted to keep talking.)

    Some people have argued that the Senate has a constitutional duty to vote on judicial nominees. Unfortunately, they have a hard time citing any actual words in the Constitution that supports their position. What the Constitution actually says is that the president “shall nominate, and by and with the Advice and Consent of the Senate, shall appoint . . . Judges of the supreme Court, and all other Officers of the United States, whose Appointments are not herein otherwise provided for.” In other words, the president has to get an affirmative vote of the Senate if he wants his nominees seated (except in the case of recess appointments); there is nothing that obligates the Senate to hold a vote.

  40. R C Dean is correct, each time the Congress convenes to do the “people’s business” there is a leadership conference in which rule changes, if any, are discussed…

    IT is asumed that rules will carry forth from session to session as discussed here:

  41. MNG, the point is not to prevent neighbors from ever being able to see each other. You can call up your neighbor, arrange a playdate, and go over.

    But the level of deliberateness and effort required makes those interactions fundamentally different from running into your upstairs neighborh in the hall, or a guy from the next street at the lunch counter on the corner. Mainly because people don’t generally call strangers and arrange meetings with them, just the people they already know.

  42. To add a paltry addendum to Seamus’s post, the only language in the Constitution that addresses how the houses of Congress are supposed to do their business says, to sum up, that they can determine on their own how they want to do their businesses.

    If the Senate chose to appoint the shortest member to give the thumbs up or down to judges, that’s their right according to the Constitution.

    The Senate has chosen to allow debate to be cut off with a 60 member vote. They’ve also chosen to change rules with a 2/3 vote. They’ve also chosen to allow interpretations of existing rules to be established with a majority vote.

    The language of the rule about cutting off debate doesn’t distinguish between types of debates. The reason the Nuclear Option is nuclear is that it would involve “interpretting” the rule on cutting off debate to refer only to legislation, despite the fact that the rule has no such limitation in its language; that it has long been understood to refer to all debate; and that it has been used before to “allow debate to continue” (read: fillibuster) on several judicial nominees already. In other words, it would be nuclear because it would be a violation of the rules, with only the thinnest veil of conforming to the rules.

  43. The bottom line is that the Republican leadership (including the President) has not conducted itself in a way that makes them worthy of unchecked power over the third coequal branch of government. They’ve talked the good talk about smaller government, but they’ve run up deficits, allowed non-defense discretionary spending to blossom, passed McCain-Feingold, passed the largest expansion of the welfare state since LBJ, and claimed the power to detain US citizens indefinitely without trial.

    Now they talk the good talk about judges who will adhere to the Constitution, and some libertarians get all giddy and are ready to hand them the keys to the kingdom. But how do we know that they’ll be better on those promises than on any other promises they’ve made? How do we know that these judges won’t start handing the theocrats everything they want and sign off on detaining US citizens without trial? What makes anyone think that judges appointed by Bush and confirmed by the Senate Republicans will declare unconstitutional any of the bad laws passed by the Senate Republicans and signed by Bush? (e.g. McCain-Feingold, Medicare Prescription drugs, etc.)?

    Indeed, much of the rhetoric coming from the GOP on the issue of judges has more to do with the role of religion in government than, say, fiscal conservatism or respect for due process. Don’t assume that the Republicans mean what you’d like them to mean when they utter the magic words “judges who adhere to the Constitution.” They talk about smaller government in legislative and executive elections but they deliver pork, welfare, and deficits and they work to eviscerate the Bill of Rights. Why assume that they’ll be more honest when appointing about the third branch of government?

    Now, admittedly, a filibuster by the Senate Democrats is hardly the ideal way to keep the GOP leadership in check. In an ideal world we’d of course handle this by having the Libertarian majority on the Senate Judiciary Committee vote down anybody who isn’t suitable. But we don’t live in an ideal world. We live in this world, and in this world the only obstacle standing in the way of complete GOP hegemony is a filibuster by the Senate Democrats. Let’s not let that one final obstacle disappear. If you have a Republican Senator, write to him or her and urge your Senator to oppose the “nuclear option.”

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