Editorial

Editorial We're guessing it depends on how you ask the question. Or who you talk to.

The Washington Post reports that "a strong majority of Americans oppose changing the rules to make it easier for Republican leaders to win confirmation of President Bush's court nominees."�Their poll came up with a 2-1 ratio opposed.

But over at Rasmussen Reports, they asked "if Senate rules should be changed to give every nominee a vote" and�came up with�56 percent answering yes and 26 percent answering no.

One of the primary rules we're talking about here, at the least the one that seems to have garnered the most news recently, is the filibuster.

Most of us first hear about this unique option open to members of the U.S. Senate in our fifth grade Civics class. Or by watching Jimmy Stewart in Mr. Smith Goes to Washington.

The filibuster is part of the checks and balance system written into the U.S. Constitution by our founding fathers. But, as we mentioned earlier, whether those long-standing, traditional rules should be changed depends on who you talk to � or how you ask the question.

Democrats blocked 10 of President Bush's appellate court choices through filibuster threats, which means those nominees would have to get 60 votes before they could be confirmed to lifetime seats on the nation�s second-highest court.

Republicans in turn have threatened to use their majority to change Senate rules to require a simple majority vote for confirmation, in part because they fear a Democratic blockade could affect a future Supreme Court vacancy.

To avoid that showdown, Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid of Nevada said Tuesday he had offered Frist a compromise. Part of that compromise would require Republicans to back away from attempting to ban judicial filibusters.

According to news reports, Democratic congressional sources said Reid�s compromise includes allowing confirmation votes for three nominees for the 6th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in exchange for Henry Saad�s nomination to that court being withdrawn. Democrats also would not block confirmation of one of the four remaining filibustered nominees.

Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist said he would not accept any deal.

South Dakota Sen. John Thune, who defeated Senate Minority Leader Tom Daschle by emphasizing how the Senate had turned into a "Daschle Dead Zone," agrees with Frist.

Thune has said he is worried the Senate�s ambitious agenda might stall if Democrats follow through on threats to "shut down" the Senate over the judicial nominee issue.

Thune, in an opinion piece in the April 24 Sioux Falls Argus Leader notes "For over 200 years, the Senate has fulfilled its role by giving judicial nominees up-or-down votes � with a majority of senators required to approve a nominee. But now, a minority of the Senate is filibustering certain judicial nominees who fail to pass their own political litmus test. Their actions must stop."

Thune notes that to guarantee judicial nominees get an up or down vote, the Senate is considering new limits on filibusters on judicial nominees. The senator supports those limits, stating that he "came to Congress to get things done."

Under Senate rules, at least 60 votes are needed to cut off floor debate � known as cloture. To keep a filibuster going, Democrats need just 41 senators to vote against a cloture motion.

Most of the time it�s merely the Democratic threat of a filibuster that keeps GOP leaders from bringing a judicial nomination to the floor for a vote.

To change the rules, Frist needs a simple majority in the 100-member Senate. He can get that by mustering 50 votes and bringing in Vice President Dick Cheney as the tiebreaker in his capacity as president of the Senate under the Constitution.

The Senate has 55 Republicans, 44 Democrats and one independent. But a half-dozen GOP senators either have said they oppose or have refused to support changing the rules.

There are good reasons for not changing the way the Senate does its business � particularly in terms of the filibuster.

We know the practice is frustrating to Frist and Thune and others who grow weary of the Senate's ability to stall at a time when it should be doing the people's business.

It's hard to imagine, however, that Frist, Thune and other GOP members will see the benefits they are hoping for with a rules change.

Changing filibuster rules will only anger the Democrats in the Senate. They may be a minority, but we can�t help but think that they'll find ways to make their displeasure known by throwing up other procedural roadblocks on legislation or nominees supported by Republicans.

Republicans also need to reminded of a simple fact before they change the rules: political trends tend to change in this country.

The GOP likely won�t always be the majority in the Senate. When that time comes, Republicans will be glad they still have the option of the filibuster.

The Vermillion Plain Talk editorials reflect the opinion of Plain Talk editor David Lias. You may contact him at david.lias@plaintalk.net

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