Leahy hopeful for filibuster compromise

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(Host) Senator Patrick Leahy says he’s hopeful that a compromise can be found over the weekend concerning the use of judicial filibusters in the United States Senate.

Leahy says this may be the most important issue to ever come before the Senate.

VPR’s Bob Kinzel reports

(Kinzel) The issue is whether or not it’s appropriate to use a filibuster to block the consideration of one of the president’s judicial nominees on the Senate floor. It takes sixty votes to stop a filibuster.

The Democrats argue that filibusters help protect the rights of the minority party and they point out that they’ve only used this procedure to block ten of the president’s 218 nominees.

The Republicans say all the nominees deserve a full vote on the Senate floor if they’ve been approved by the Senate Judiciary Committee.

Leahy’s role as the ranking Democrat on the Judiciary committee has been to harshly condemn the effort to ban judicial filibusters. Speaking on the Senate floor this week, he argued that the Democrats have used this procedure sparingly and have approved the vast majority of the president’s nominees.

(Leahy) “The president and his enablers in the Senate can’t seem to take yes for an answer. He rejects our advice but he demands our consent. That is wrong and that goes against the Constitution. The Constitution speaks of advice and consent, not order and rubber stamp.”

(Kinzel) Leahy says the Republican plan has an impact far beyond the make up of the nation’s court system. He believes it will forever change the operations of the Senate because the majority will be able to ignore the rights of the minority.

(Leahy) “Now our freedoms as Americans is the fruit of too much sacrifice to have the rules broken in the United States Senate, especially to break them in collusion with the executive branch. Whatever happened to the concept of the separation of powers? We all give great speeches on the separation of powers. Don’t just give the speeches. Don’t just talk the talk. Let’s walk the walk.”

(Kinzel) Jennifer Duffy is a senior Congressional analyst at the non-partisan Cook Political Report in Washington, D.C. She says Leahy is in a key position in this debate because of his leadership role in the Democratic Senate caucus.

(Duffy) “I think Senator Leahy sees this for what it is, which is bigger than simply judicial nominees but about the institution, the right of the minority party, long standing tradition. This debate has gone well beyond whether a number of judges get votes.”

(Kinzel) A bi-partisan group of roughly a dozen senators are working to find a compromise. Leahy is hoping that they’ll succeed.

(Leahy) “If we had a few profiles in courage it would be settled. The irony of this is so many Republican senators have told me privately they think it’s a terrible idea but they’re afraid of the White House. They’re afraid of Dick Cheney. They’re afraid of their own leadership. I said they ought to be afraid of their conscience. That’s the only thing that should count.”

(Kinzel) Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist is expected to call for a vote to ban judicial filibusters next Tuesday unless a compromise is reached before that time.

For Vermont Public Radio, I’m Bob Kinzel in Montpelier.

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