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A SHORTSIGHTED MANEUVER
GOP THREAT TO END FILIBUSTERS WITH 51 VOTES IS A CHANGE THAT REPUBLICANS WILL REGRET

The effort to end Democratic filibusters against President Bush's judicial nominations -- the so-called "nuclear option" -- is a shortsighted idea rooted in raw political power that will eventually bite the very Republicans who are trying to put this policy in place.

That said, any argument against this misguided plan should mention that Republicans have no monopoly on rash ideas or, for that matter, hypocrisy. As noted by Sean Rushton in National Review Online, senior Democrats, including Sen. Joseph Lieberman, introduced a proposal in 1995 to do away with all filibusters, not just those aimed at judicial nominations. Nineteen Democrats, including blue-state senators such as Ted Kennedy and John Kerry, supported the measure.

Given that Democrats were then in the minority, it was a principled, if unwise, stand. And their hypocrisy not withstanding, Lieberman and Kennedy are right to oppose a threat by Republicans to change Senate rules so debate on judicial nominations can be cut off by a simple majority of 51 votes rather than 60.

Republicans may argue that Democrats are unreasonably obstructing Bush's judicial nominees. The claim is exaggerated in the extreme. The Senate has approved 204 of the presidents 214 nominees. Only 10 nominees were deemed unacceptable by Democrats.

This debate is only partly about judicial nominees. It has as much -- probably more -- to do with a Republican effort to force a tyranny of the majority. Should they embed that principle in the Senate, Republicans will one day regret their action. There will come a day when they will wish they had a maneuver to block a Democratic nominee or treaty, only to find a bare majority has the power to enforce its will.

We understand that the filibuster has not always been used for good. It's most commonly associated with Southern efforts to stall passage of civil rights legislation in the 1950s and 1960s. If it were not for the sheer political brilliance of then Senate Majority Leader Lyndon Johnson in circumventing that filibuster, history would have been written in a far different manner.

Still, there are few things that can't be misused by those who are bound and determined to get their way. Simply because this maneuver was used by ignorant men once doesn't mean it can't be used for good by legislators with higher principles.

The founders instituted a system of checks and balances so that legislation could not be rushed into law. The filibuster, even though it is a Senate rule and not part of the Constitution, is part of the fabric of a government that protects the minority from being overrun by a small majority. It shouldn't be altered for short-term political gain.