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As Congress opens, Frist warns that filibuster rule could change

WASHINGTON (BP)–Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist said Jan. 4 that Republicans would not yet pursue a rule change to prevent the filibustering of judicial nominees — but he warned Democrats that such a rule change could take place if needed.

“Some … have suggested that the filibusters of the last Congress are reason enough to offer a procedural change today, right here and right now. But at this moment I do not choose that path,” Frist, a Republican from Tennessee, said during opening remarks on the first day of the new Congress.

“My Democratic colleagues have new leadership. And in the spirit of bipartisanship, I want to extend my hand across the aisle.”

Sen. Harry Reid, D.-Nev., has replaced former Senator Tom Daschle as minority leader. Daschle lost his seat in November.

During President Bush’s first term, Daschle and fellow Democrats used the filibuster to block 10 of Bush’s judicial nominees, preventing a floor vote even though all of them had enough votes to pass. While 60 votes are needed to overcome a filibuster, a simple majority of 51 is needed for confirmation. Much of the opposition was led by liberal activist and pro-choice groups concerned about the nominees’ pro-life beliefs.

Republicans charged that the use of filibusters on judicial nominees was unconstitutional and prevents the Senate from offering advice and consent, which is outlined in the Constitution.

Many Republicans say that Senate rules can be changed to prevent the filibustering of nominees. Such a rule change, they say, would require only 51 votes — a threshold that became more reachable on Election Day when Republicans increased their number of Senate seats to 55. New senators were sworn in Jan. 4.

Frist said one of Bush’s nominees will be brought to the floor in February.

“If my Democratic colleagues continue to filibuster judicial nominees, the Senate will face this choice: fail to do its constitutional duty, or reform itself and restore its traditions, and do what the Framers intended.

“Right now, we cannot be certain judicial filibusters will cease. So I reserve the right to propose changes to Senate Rule XXII and do not acquiesce to carrying over all the rules from the last Congress,” Frist said, referring to the Senate rule relating to filibusters.

The last Congress, he said, “failed to perform an essential constitutional duty.”

“These filibusters were unprecedented,” he said. “Never in the history of the Senate has a minority filibustered a judicial nominee that had clear majority support.

“… As a public servant who has twice taken an oath to support and defend the Constitution, I cannot stand idly by — nor should any of us — if the Senate fails to do its constitutional duty.

Manuel Miranda, a former legal counsel to Frist, told Human Events Online that Frist’s comments were a significant step toward a rule change.

“What Frist did [Jan. 4] was a historic moment in the Senate,” Miranda said. “It was one of the boldest things he could have done. He took an enormous step that few majority leaders have done before.”

Judicial nominees are one of a handful of top issues to Christian conservatives, who cite a series of rulings from recent decades as evidence that conservative justices are needed both on the Supreme Court and all federal courts. Some of the more controversial decisions were the 1973 Roe v. Wade ruling legalizing abortion, a 2000 ruling overturning a law that banned partial-birth abortion and a 2003 ruling overturning anti-sodomy laws. Conservatives fear that the court eventually will overturn the federal Defense of Marriage Act, thus legalizing same-sex “marriage” nationwide.

During his floor speech Frist did not specifically mention a constitutional marriage amendment but seemed to make reference to it, when he said that he and Bush are committed to “protecting the values that serve as the foundation of a healthy society: marriage, families and a culture of life that protects human dignity at every stage of development.”

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