Monday, May 23, 2005


Filibuster this!

Pity the poor filibuster.

Who doesn't squirm with uncomfortable thoughts of this weasly, oft-abused end run around straightforward voting? In my own mind, I can't help but picture some circa-1964 cornpone demagogue from Louisiana sharing his favorite gumbo recipe and reading out of the Sears catalog as the minutes tick down on a landmark civil rights bill. With images like those, Bill Frist starts sounding pretty reasonable in his insistence that judicial nominees like Priscilla Owen get a vote. Yea or nay, Democrats, and if you insist on hiding behind your big mouths, then we'll blow your precious little filibuster to tiny bits. Right?

Well, maybe. But then again...

Perhaps there's a reason why the Senate has clung to this peculiar mechanism almost since the founding of the republic. You see, senators are a snooty bunch. They like to think they're above those hoi polloi Congressmen on the opposite side of the rotunda, who will rush into any damn fool idea like a flag-burning or gay-burning amendment . Senators, meanwhile, stand back, take a deep collective breath and argue the issues at length. That's saved us from rushing into some bad stuff we would have really regretted later.

A filibuster is yet one more means to preserve the deliberative nature of the Senate. The only way currently to stop a filibuster is with a vote of 60 percent of the members to invoke "cloture" or a ban on further debate over a certain issue. At one time a 70-percent vote was needed for cloture. At issue now is whether we're going to let Republicans to rewrite the rules to allow a mere simple majority. With that, the Senate would become just another clone of the House, where a tyranny of the majority hijacked by special interests can trample on anything and anyone.

And is there anything that needs more careful thought and deliberation than the confirmation of an appeals court judge? These folks are only one step below the Supreme Court and are faced with some pretty heavy cases that affect basic rights of all Americans. Not only that, but any president uses our lower federal courts as a sort of farm system for the Major League nine in Washington. It's very possbile that at least one Bush appointee will someday sit on the Supreme Court. The very idea should frighten the bejesus out of reasonable people everywhere.

Take Priscilla Owen, for example. As a Texas Supreme Court justice, her record on workplace issues is frightening, consistently favoring big business and snubbing workers like us in cases of wrongful termination, sexual harrassment and on-the-job safety. She has proven herself to be an enemy of the consumer, consistently taking big business' side against the side of average folks like you and me. For the sake of brevity, I'll refrain from citing specific cases and let you read about them in a report from People for the American Way by clicking on this link:

To be sure, Owen has shown such strident activism that none other than our new Attorney General Alberto Gonzales - a former colleague of Owen's on the Texas court and a rather frightening specimen himself - frequently chided Owen in opinions as being too eager to legislate from the bench. Can you imagine if she were eventually to sit as one of the nine final arbitors of justice in America? This is why we need the option of filibuster. The mere threat forces any president to submit judicial nominees that the opposing party can stomach. The end result is a fairly moderate, reasonable Supreme Court such as we now enjoy. The alternative is a court of extremist justices serving only because a majority of Senators ramrodded the nomination through.

And Owen is just the beginning. Bush has an entire slate of right-wing ideologues he'd love to move up the ranks of our judicial branch. Senate Republicans are counting on winning this filibuster debate and the subsequent vote over Owen's nomination. If they can win this battle, then they can pack the appeals courts and Supreme Court with as many far-from-mainstream-thought ideologues as they dare. The end result would be a far-different America from what we enjoy today.


Mere minutes after I posted my rant about the charter school movement yesterday, I came across a package of stories on the issue in the Dallas Morning News, further proof that the problem isn't just unique to Missouri.

Click on the link below to read how charters have proven to be an intractable mess in Texas:

While we're on the subject, here's a link to a summary from the National Center for Educational Statistics citing a recent study of charter schools from the National Assessment of Educational Progress. Here's the short version: Students at charters do less well than students at traditional public schools. To read more click the link below:

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