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May 13, 2005
Frist: Let The Debate (And Vote) Begin

Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist announced this afternoon that after the completion of debate and vote on the highway bill, the next order of business on the Senate agenda will be the confirmation debate for Priscilla Owen and Janice Rogers Brown to their appellate court seats. This means that a filibuster will likely be attempted in the coming week, certainly on Brown if not Owen, and Frist says that such obstructionism will be rejected:

The Majority Leader will continue to discuss an appropriate resolution of the need for fair up or down votes with the Minority Leader. If they can not find a way for the Senate to decide on fair up or down votes on judicial nominations, the Majority Leader will seek a ruling from the Presiding Officer regarding the appropriate length of time for debate on such nominees. After the ruling, he will ensure that every Senator has the opportunity to decide whether to restore the 214-year practice of fair up or down votes on judicial nominees; or, to enshrine a new veto by filibuster that both denies all Senators the opportunity to advise and consent and fundamentally disturbs the separation of powers between the branches. ...

It is time for 100 Senators to decide the issue of fair up or down votes for judicial nominees after over two years of unprecedented obstructionism. The Minority has made public threats that much of the Senate's work will be shut down. Such threats are unfortunate.

Frist sticks with his offer of 100 hours of debate on each nominee, apparently thinking that an hour per Senator will disabuse anyone of the notion that the issue involves free speech on the Senate floor. It does defuse the argument that Robert Byrd made earlier, that free speech would be "dead, dead, dead!" if the rule change was approved. However, I don't think anyone took that argument seriously at any time, and the length of debate is too long for an administration to fill all the appellate slots it expects to open during any term of office, unless Frist starts planning late-night sessions on C-SPAN 2.

However, at least Frist has finally begun moving towards the confirmation fight, ending months of fruitless negotiation with the Democrats and the loss of momentum from the successful 2004 election. The pressure from the GOP grassroots made itself felt on party leaders, who two or three weeks earlier were talking about mid-summer before taking up the issue. Frist at least has listened and acted on the intense dissatisfaction from Republicans across the spectrum who expected the highest domestic priority to have already been addressed by this point of the session.

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Posted by Ed Morrissey at May 13, 2005 2:17 PM

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