Tuesday, May 24, 2005

Senate Proceeds with Priscilla Owen

The Associated Press has reported that a vote for cloture has just passed 81-18 to proceed with an up-or-down vote on Priscilla Owen. The AP injects some confusion into the matter by misreporting how the filibuster and cloture actually works.

The vote was 81-18 with opponents of the Texas Supreme Court justice falling well short of the 60 needed to continue their filibuster. A vote to confirm Owen could come as early as Tuesday.

Of course, a filibuster is simply unlimited debate. Cloture is imposition of a time limit upon debate, eventually leading to a vote on the matter at hand. The simple threat of a filibuster (to debate endlessly) informs Senate leaders that 60 votes will be necessary for cloture (to limit debate) before an issue can be brought to a vote. So, opponents of Priscilla Owen didn't need 60 votes to continue their filibuster. They needed 41 votes against cloture to prevent the majority from limiting debate.

However, this story raises more interesting quesions. If Priscilla Owen was such a radical judicial activist that a filibuster was the only recourse to save our judicial system, then why now do we have 81 Senators voting to permit a vote which expecting to lead to her confirmation?

Let's break down the numbers. Prior to yesterday's Agreement, Priscilla Owen's supporters lacked 60 votes to overcome the minority filibuster. Even if we subtract the seven centrist Democrat signatories to the Agreement from the 41 Senators necessary to sustain a filibuster and add them to the Senators voting for cloture; we arrive at a maximum vote of 65-34 in favor of cloture. That doesn't explain the 81-18 vote that just occured in the Senate a few moments ago.

Ladies and gentlemen, sometime in the last 24 hours, 16 U.S. Senators have gone from believing that Priscilla Owen was a too extreme for a vote on the Senate floor to now believing that she is qualified and deserving of a vote before the full Senate. This begs for an explanation from those Senators on their remarkable change of mind.


Blogger Mike said...

Everyone wants to be on the winning team. Funny how quickly they sell out their so-called principles in order to position themselves for the next election. Now they can say they voted for cloture to end the filibuster and can't be accused of holding up nominees.

5:32 AM  
Blogger Bill said...

I think it is possible that the best explanation lies in a speach I heard Pennsylvania's Republican Senator Arlen Specter give last week on the Senate floor when debate was just beginning. In that speach he called on Senate leadership not to change the Senate rules regarding filibuster but rather to release Republican Senators from the bond of party-line politics in this matter. He suggested that if this were done, the chances of these nominees passing confirmation were very good.
As near as I can tell, that's just what is taking place now.

8:45 AM  
Blogger Mike said...

Now if we could just get the democratic leadership to "liberate" their Senators to vote their feelings, perhaps we could once again have a decent Republic.

11:34 AM  

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