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Monday, May 02, 2005

Princeton's Filibuster

For almost a week now, students at Princeton have taken up filibustering, the old parliamentary technique of prolonged speechmaking, as a way to protest Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist's threat to end the filibuster, which has often been used by Democrats to block confirmations of Bush's court nominees. And they haven't been doing it just anywhere, but directly in front of the $25mil student center that Frist's family donated to his alma mater.

Check out the webcam footage on the website here (they're still going!), today's WaPo coverage here, and listen to Rep. Rush Holt's own speech, delivered yesterday. And here's the WaPo's general coverage of the issue.

Sounds like a hot way to move things at a place not normally known for campus activism. Unlike my own bodyguard-thwarted attempt to get to Frist this summer, I think this may have some effect on that old tyme Princtonian, even if it just makes him cry into his checkbook.

I know they're trying to spread this to other campuses too. What do people think about this? Should the Dems and other groups follow suit? Will they?


At 2:05 PM, Blogger Jamal Sprucewood said...

I can't help but noticing that the Princeton students in question actually filibuster - ie they actually are speaking.

That's not the same filibuster being used in the Senate. The Princeton students perhaps should have threatened to filibuster in front of the Frist Center to make a more true-to-life representation of what's really going on.

I'm not sure that the "nuclear option" is the way to go, but I personally think that if a filibuster is to be used that there should be actual speaking. And, again, that should hold for both parties. If something is important enough to filibuster, then there shouldn't be a problem actually engaging in one.

At 2:35 PM, Blogger andrew golis said...

I agree. I think, from our previous discussions, it's clear that the form of filibuster being claimed as "tradition" by the Democrats is clearly not been used in the past. It's an extension of previous forms to a new, and problematic extreme. At the same time, the nuclear option does legitimately threaten the protections of the minority part that the Senate was set up to have, because by ending the more extreme form of the filibuster that Democrats threaten, you also end all forms.

Jamal is arguing for something my oft-reasonable roommate pointed to as the reasonable middle ground that I am coming to agree with: the filibuster has good reason to exist. However, it should not be turned into a blanket requirement of a super-majority. Instead, the filibuster should require constant speaking that would subject the opposition to both physical and possible political drawbacks. This would both ensure that the individual or group filibustering pay consequences for their action, and that any filibuster done with the support of the public would be allowed to continue, thereby making the action as democratic, politically risky, and available as possible...

At 3:36 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Not at all clear what you guys are talking about. The Democrats are ready to filibuster these judges and have made it clear that they will do so. This is not a HYPOTHETICAL filibuster; it's a promise. (Unless of course it's a bluff, which I don't think anyone thinks.)

So WHAT are you talking about? Do you think the Democrats are too WIMPY to actually STAGE their filibuster? Arrant nonsense. The Republicans have simply not triggered the filibuster: they HAVE NOT YET BROUGHT THOSE JUDGES TO THE FLOOR FOR CONFIRMATION.

It's the Republicans that are trying to avoid an actual showdown that would make the actual floor of the Congress a place where real debate and work happen. The Dems are using the filibuster the way it's always used -- as a threat with a strong deterrent element. This is highly precedented.

Moreover, our national amnesia about what the filibuster does stems from our recent various histories of divided government. When the president's party controls the Congress, the minority needs this tool much more often; when the President is of the minority party things simply get killed in committee, as many of Clinton's judges did.

By the way: Princeton RULES.


At 9:05 PM, Blogger Jamal Sprucewood said...


I don't think that the Dems are wimpy at all, but they may be bluffing on some of the blocked nominees. I think that they realize that actually filibustering some of the nominees could backfire after the action attracts media attention and people are forced to focus on the indivdual justice in question. For some of the nominees, this may be a good thing and could sway public opinion in favor of filibustering the justice until the nomination is withdrawn. On the other hand, filibustering a justice who doesn't appear all that extreme upon examination could be a PR nightmare.

And if the Dems aren't really bluffing, then they would have to filibuster what is it...nearly a dozen or more justices?. I personally think that wouldn't play real well at all - it really would look like obstruction.

At 11:03 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

It would BE obstruction. That's why the filibuster has such a heavy deterrent element -- it prevents all other business.

Not sure how many judges would pass the media test, but I expect that the Dems have objected to each of them for some politically viable reason.

By the way: obstruction rules!


At 12:25 AM, Blogger Jamal Sprucewood said...

I meant it may look like obstruction for non-meritorious reasons.


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