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Tuesday, January 24, 2006

Alito, the Filibuster, and Political Cowardice: A Prediction

Here is how the Alito nomination should, in a better world, play out:

1. One or more Democratic or Independent Senators would filibuster Alito.

2. Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist would call a cloture vote (i.e., a vote to cut off debate, which in the Senate ordinarily is unlimited. Cloture would end a filibuster, which is actually nothing more than unlimited debate actually occurring.)

3. 41 Democratic and Independent Senators would oppose cloture. The filibuster would continue.

4. The mainstream press would have no choice but to cover at least some of the filibuster speeches, communicating Alito's problems to the American people.

5. The Republican party would do instant polling and, depending on the results, either back down and withdraw the Alito nomination or, as they have threatened to do, "go nuclear" -- Frist or Cheney (as President of the Senate) would declare that filibusters of judicial nominees are unconstitutional, turn off the filibustering Senators' microphones, and hold a simple vote to confirm Alito.

6. If the latter, Alito would become a Supreme Court justice, the Republicans would look bad, and the Democrats would keep the issue alive from now to next November's elections by effectively shutting down all Senate business (except for military and public health matters) by insisting on strict compliance with every. single. procedural. rule. in. the. book.

The two parties would have succeeded in distinguishing themselves from each other; both sides would have stood on principle; and the voters would, at long last, have a clear choice in November (instead of a choice between Republican and Vichy Democrat, as they have had in the past).

That's what I'd like to see: principled confrontation, backbones, and a decision of "who wins" by the voters in November.

Now here's what I predict will happen:

1. Since Democratic activists are increasingly calling for a filibuster, one or more Democratic Senators -- especially ones whose seats are susceptible to a primary challenge, like Joe Lieberman -- will mount a filibuster.

2. They will do so knowing, in advance, that there aren't 41 votes against cloture. Frist will call a cloture vote, several Democratic Senators (those up for re-election in largely conservative states) will side with the Republicans, and the filibuster will fail.

3. The Vichy Democrats will rail against the Right without actually having done anything concrete to stop it and without taking any political risk.

4. The Republicans will keep their Senate and House majorities in November.*

* Disclaimer: unless there are enough indictments of individual Republican congresspeople in connection with the Abramoff and Delay corruption trials, in which case the Democrats may win enough seats in the House despite their cowardice over Alito.

There. I'm on the record. Let's see how it plays out.

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