Web Exclusives: PawPlus

June 8, 2005:

Let’s have a real debate, not obstruction

By Dylan S. Hogarty ’06

A complaint occasionally heard in some undergraduate circles is that students are apathetic about politics and are not sufficiently engaged in national and global issues. To some extent, I believe the filibuster outside of Frist Campus Center addresses that concern.

I must commend the organizers and participants for their spirit and organizational skill. They did a very effective job of drawing attention to an issue.

What concerns me, however, is the issue they chose to discuss and message they articulated in doing so. The filibuster outside the Frist Campus Center was largely an exercise in negativism and partisanship.

When Hardball reported on the filibuster, many of the people who supported it chanted “FILIBUSTER” over and over again. That’s certainly a strange word to chant, given that it refers to time-consuming talk to obstruct the proceedings of the Senate.

Other things heard at the filibuster include rants about Halliburton, a subject that has nothing to do with the Senate or the filibuster. It is simply an old standby for the Bush administration’s detractors.

The people leading the filibuster have made it clear what they are against – almost anything the Bush administration is for. Their antipathy for the president and his associates is clear. I think they could do a lot more for their own cause and for the intellectual discourse on campus if they told us what they were for. Likewise, Democrats in Washington should spend more time articulating their beliefs, rather than obstructing and filibustering.

Last fall, a large number of students campaigned for the two major presidential candidates. Judging from what was said at the filibuster, at least one side is still fighting that election.

The 2004 election is over. President Bush was re-elected and hast the responsibility to appoint judges to the federal bench. A Senate was elected that has the responsibility to give advice and consent with respect to judicial nominees. A majority of the Senate that was elected supports the nominees in question.

In response to these outcomes, a minority of senators has broken with Senate precedent and filibustered judicial nominations. Never before have nominees with the support of a majority of senators been filibustered.

By filibustering these nominees, a minority of senators has prevented the Senate from carrying out its Constitutional duties. The Constitution clearly states that the standard for confirming judicial nominees is a simple majority.

This issue is about fairness. Are these nominees going to be given the up-or-down vote that nominees have been given for centuries? The seven people whose nominations have been filibustered deserve an up-or-down vote.

The nominees in question are excellent candidates for the positions to which they have been appointed. The ABA has rated all of them as qualified or well-qualified. Seventy-six percent of Californians voted to keep Janice Rogers Brown, one of the nominees, on the California Supreme Court. Another nominee, Priscilla Owen, has twice been elected to the Texas Supreme Court by an overwhelming margin.

This issue is also about justice for litigants in this country. Vacancies at the appellate level have led to long delays in resolving disputes. Too often, justice delayed is justice denied. The Judicial Conference of the United States has classified a number of the vacancies that are unfilled due to the filibusters as judicial emergencies.

Sen. Bill Frist ’74’s proposal to restore Senate precedent and end these filibusters is the right thing for the people concerned; it is the right thing for the judiciary; and it is the right thing for the country. It would also leave the legislative filibuster unchanged.

The American people want progress, not obstruction. Obstruction is what Washington Democrats are engaged in, and obstruction is what the organizers of the filibuster at Princeton have endorsed.

The American people do not want the partisanship on display in Washington. Nor should we want the partisanship that was on display at the filibuster outside of Frist.

Although this filibuster can be construed as a sign of a vigorous intellectual environment on campus, it falls short. Rather than read poetry in defense of a new interpretation of Senate Rule XXII, let’s have a serious discussion of the issues that matter to Americans all across the country – issues like national security and economic policy.

As much as the prospect of a change in Senate rules may excite left-wing interest groups like the Center for American Progress and their campus affiliates, the issue has not captured the imagination of most Americans. This is not the time for gridlock and partisanship. It is time to restore the long-standing precedent of the Senate, end the filibusters, and act on the issues Americans sent their representatives to Washington to consider.

Likewise, now that the Frist filibuster is winding down, I’m hopeful that the organizers and their supporters will put down their microphone, fold up their tent, and have a real debate.

Dylan Hogarty ’06 is president of the Princeton chapter of College Republicans.