Extremism Loses a Round

It didn’t take long for the Senate filibuster agreement to have an effect. First thing the following morning, the Senate cleared the way for an up or down vote 0 and it will be up – next week on Priscilla Owen’s four-year-old nomination to the Fifth Circuit Court.

Votes on long-stalled circuit court nominees Janice Rogers Brown and William Pryor should quickly follow. Two other nominations are likely dead as a result of the deal.

But this is not about circuit court nominees. It is about President Bush filling a Supreme Court vacancy and naming a new chief justice, perhaps as early as this summer. As far as a long-term effect on the country, that could be as important as anything he will do in his eight-year presidency.

The key line in the filibuster agreement urges Bush to consult with both Democrats and Republicans on judicial appointments, meaning the agreement will last only as long as his Supreme Court nominee is from close to the middle of the ideological spectrum.

The deal reached by the Filibuster 14 _ seven Republicans and seven Democrats _ averted a nasty and debilitating battle over the “nuclear option,” a plan by the Republican leadership to reduce from 60 to 50 the number of votes needed to end a judicial filibuster. The Senate has 55 Republicans, which would give Senate GOP leader Bill Frist a rubber stamp.

The 11th-hour compromise calls on Democrats to use judicial filibusters only in “extraordinary circumstances” and the Republicans to oppose voting on judicial nominations any way other than the current rules; i.e., no nuclear option.

The deal angered Republican social and political conservatives who wanted to see the Democrats steamrolled, and it even disappointed some Democrats who thought the Republicans were overreaching themselves and being set up for a public backlash.

Among them, the Filibuster 14 represent swing votes that could control the Senate agenda if they wished. But it is an unlikely coalition of old bulls, mavericks, newcomers and representatives of the dwindling band of Senate centrists. And the coalition may hold only as long as the definition of “extraordinary circumstances” isn’t pressed.

The filibuster compromise postpones rather than solves the problem of deep-seated party differences over judicial nominees but it is heartening evidence that bipartisanship isn’t completely dead.

(Contact Dale McFeatters at McFeattersD(at)SHNS.com)