Published on Monday, April 4, 2005 by the Capital Times, / Madison, Wisconsin
Dems' Filibustering Serves a Majority
by Dave Zweifel
Conservative members of the U.S. Senate, who used the filibuster throughout the 20th century to block everything from civil rights legislation to presidential appointments they didn't like, are outraged now that Democrats are using it to prevent confirmation of some of President Bush's more outrageous judicial appointments.
The Democrats are promising to use it again against Bush's re-nomination of William G. Myers III, a fierce anti-environmentalist who once likened environmental regulations to King George's tyranny over the American colonies, for a spot on the U.S. Court of Appeals that has jurisdiction over nine Western states where the environment is often an issue.
Myers' appointment last year was blocked by a filibuster and if the Democrats do it again, Sen. Bill Frist, the Senate's majority leader, has threatened to change the rules so that filibusters can't be used against judicial appointments. Frist protests that the filibuster - which requires 60 votes to end - thwarts the will of the majority.
The New Yorker's Hendrik Hertzberg, who was in Madison only a few weeks ago, is no fan of the filibuster, noting that it was first used by Southern senators way back in 1806 to preserve slavery and white supremacy laws.
But, he argues, Frist shouldn't be so sure that its use subverts the will of the majority.
The U.S. Senate isn't exactly a paragon of democracy, Hertzberg pointed out in a recent piece in the magazine. Because each state, regardless of size, has two senators, it's possible for a simple majority - 51 - to represent as little as 17 percent of the U.S. population. In fact, 60 senators voting to end a filibuster can theoretically represent but 24 percent of the country's people.
Hertzberg went a step further. The Senate's 55 Republicans, for instance, represent 131 million Americans while the 44 Democrats (there is one independent) have 161 million constituents. The present Republican majority in the Senate is the product of the 2000, 2002 and 2004 elections, he continued.
"In those elections, the total vote for Democratic senatorial candidates, winning and losing, was 99.7 million; for the Republicans it was 97.3 million," Hertzberg wrote. "The 44-person Senate Democratic minority, therefore, represents a 2 million-plus popular majority - a circumstance that, unless acres trump people, is at variance with common sense notions of democracy."
Therefore, he concluded, Democrats shouldn't feel too guilty about using the filibuster from time to time.
That's especially true when the subject at hand is a political ideologue who will serve for life.
Dave Zweifel is editor of The Capital Times.
© 2005 Capital Times