We usually like it when centrist senators like John McCain (R-Ariz.) and Ben Nelson (D-Neb.) try to galvanize the sensible center on behalf of some compromise, but we sincerely hope they fail in their attempt to preserve the Senate's filibuster. Count this page on the side of conservative social activists who are pushing Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist to "nuke" the filibuster.
We don't share these activists' enthusiasm for the White House judicial nominees triggering the current showdown. But we do believe that nominees are entitled to a vote on the floor of the Senate. The filibuster, an arcane if venerable parliamentary tactic that empowers a minority of 41 senators to block a vote, goes above and beyond those checks on majority power legitimately written into the Constitution.
The filibuster is an inherently reactionary instrument most famously used to block civil rights legislation for a generation. Democratic senators themselves decried the filibuster not long ago when they were in the majority and President Clinton's judicial nominees were being blocked.
Frist is on the verge of doing the right thing for the wrong reasons. He plans to bring the nomination of Priscilla R. Owen, a Texas Supreme Court justice, before the full Senate today. Democrats have blocked her nomination in the past, and Frist is now threatening to force a change in rules to prohibit filibusters of judicial nominees. That would be a great triumph for the American people. It would be an even greater triumph if the Senate were to destroy the filibuster altogether.
Alas, we shouldn't uncork the champagne bottles just yet. Because the filibuster is at heart a conservative's weapon, and because Frist is essentially asking senators (regardless of their ideology) to relinquish some of their individual power, we're fearful that the centrists may yet prevail. That would be one judicious compromise that would deny the American people a worthwhile victory.