Filibuster compromise might only be temporary

Aaron Blake

Fourteen senators worked together to avoid a major change of course in the U.S. Senate on Monday, reaching a compromise that effectively killed a Republican effort to eliminate filibusters against judicial nominees.

But in the judgment of University professor and congressional politics expert Jason Roberts, the agreement might only be temporary and the threat of filibuster could resurface in the near future.

Roberts observed the political conflict closely as Senate Democrats threatened to filibuster to avoid voting on circuit court judicial nominees.

In the waning moments before Republicans and Democrats squared off in the Senate on Monday, a bipartisan group of 14 senators reached a compromise to determine which nominees would receive votes.

Spearheaded by Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., and Sen. Ben Nelson, D-Neb., the agreement states that three appeals court nominees who were previously blocked by the Democrats would receive up or down votes: Janice Rogers Brown, William Pryor and Priscilla Owen.

No agreement was made by the signatories for two other controversial nominees: William Myers and Henry Saad.

The group also pledged to oppose the potential rules change, called the nuclear option, which would have eliminated the filibuster. They agreed to only filibuster nominees “under extraordinary circumstances.”

Roberts said the agreement is likely a quick fix. The situation could become an issue again with Chief Justice William Rehnquist in poor health and apparently close to retirement.

“The deal is extraordinary circumstances. Well, what does that mean?” Roberts said. “My extraordinary circumstances could be your mainstream judge.”

Neither Minnesota senator was part of the agreement, but Sen. Norm Coleman, R-Minn., praised the compromise in a statement Tuesday.

Coleman acknowledged what could happen if Rehnquist retires.

“I applaud the fact that this agreement will allow the work of the Senate to go forward,” Coleman said. “But the true test of this agreement will be when the president fills a Supreme Court vacancy – and whether that nominee gets an up or down vote.”

Sen. Mark Dayton, D-Minn., issued a statement mostly criticizing the agreement.

“I personally would have preferred a final vote (Tuesday), accepted either outcome and proceeded to important legislation, such as Defense Authorization and Energy, before us.”

Roberts said the compromise also has implications for McCain and Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist, R-Tenn., as two potential presidential candidates. He said that while

McCain comes away looking like a centrist deal-maker, Frist was unable to deliver on a promise to social conservative groups.

But overall, he said, it’s politics as usual.

“There’s nothing new here. There’s no principle here,” Roberts said. “This is all about politics – brass-knuckle politics at its worst. Both sides are hypocrites here.”