AGREEMENT ON JUDICIAL FILIBUSTERS -- (House of Representatives - May 24, 2005)
The SPEAKER pro tempore. Pursuant to the order of the House of January 4, 2005, the gentleman from New Jersey (Mr. Pallone) is recognized during morning hour debates for 5 minutes.
Mr. PALLONE. Mr. Speaker, the Republican quest for absolute power in Washington was temporarily halted by 14 Senators last night. A truly bipartisan group of Senators, 7 Democrats and 7 Republicans came together to save the Senate from moving forward with an extreme power grab that would have undermined the very checks and balances that have existed in our Nation for over 200 years.
Senator Frist and the Senate Republican leadership were prepared to wage an unprecedented political power grab. They wanted to change the rules in the middle of the game and wanted to attack our historic system of checks and balances so they could ram through a small number of judicial nominees who otherwise could not achieve a consensus.
In reality, the power grab that the Senate Republican leadership was prepared to move ahead with today had very little to do with these seven extreme nominees. Instead, it was all an attempt by the White House and conservative interests groups to clear the way for a Supreme Court nominee who would only need 51 votes rather than 60.
Conservative interest groups and a large majority of Senate Republicans are not happy with the current make up of the Supreme Court. They do not want to see another David Souter or Anthony Kennedy nominated to the Supreme Court, even though they both were confirmed with nearly unanimous bipartisan support.
They prefer to see President Bush nominate a Supreme Court justice like Clarence Thomas, who because of extreme views could not garner strong bipartisan support. In Thomas's case he only received 52 votes, and has proven to be an extremist. If the Senate had proceeded with this extreme power grab, President Bush would have been able to appoint extreme right wing judges to the Supreme Court.
The president has already said that he most admires Justices Scalia and Thomas. How frightening to think of another Justice from that same mold.
Mr. Speaker, at the end of the day a group of 14 bipartisan Senators kept the Senate Republican leadership from moving forward with the extreme power grab. The bipartisan compromise was reached last night and shows that President Bush is not going to be able to ignore the moderate views of these Senators when he appoints future justices of the Supreme Court.
And that is good news for our Nation. There was simply no reason for the Senate to take the extreme measure of eliminating the minority's right for input on judicial nominees. In fact, the White House has manufactured the so-called judicial crisis.
Over the past 4 years, the Senate has confirmed 208 of his judicial nominations and turned back only 10. And that is a 95 percent confirmation rate, higher than any other president in modern time, including Presidents Reagan, Bush and Clinton.
In fact, it is thanks to these confirmations that President Bush now presides over the lowest court vacancy rate in 15 years. Now, Mr. Speaker, despite what Senate Republicans are saying today, judicial nominees have not always received an up or down vote on the Senate floor. In fact, back in 2000, it was Senate Republicans that attempted to filibuster two of President Clinton's appointments to the 9th Circuit Court.
Senator FRIST, the architect of the power grab voted to continue a filibuster of Clinton nominee, Richard Paez. There are also other ways Senators can prevent a nominee from receiving an up or down vote on the floor. Judicial nominees can and have been stalled in the Senate Judiciary Committee. More than one-third of President Clinton's appeals court nominees never received an up or down vote on the floor because Senator, HATCH, then the chairman of the Judiciary Committee refused to bring the nominees names up for a vote in the committee.
It is extremely disingenuous of Senator Frist to say that all nominees are entitled to an up or down vote, when he himself helped Senate Republicans block President Clinton's nominees in the late 1990s. You did not hear Senator Frist demanding an up or down vote then.
Now, the bipartisan agreement reached last night will keep two of the President's extreme nominees from moving forward. And I would hope the President would learn from last night's action that unlike the House, the Senate is not a chamber that is going to rubber stamp his extreme views.
Let us hope that President Bush was listening and will resist nominating extreme judges to our courts in future.