Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist, the health insurance industry heir who went into politics for the purpose of protecting his family’s financial interests against even the most tepid federal regulation, is not exactly an expert on the workings of Congress.
But that has not stopped the Tennessee Republican from launching an attack on one of the Senate’s most time-honored traditions.
Speaking to the Federalist Society, the conservative legal affairs group that has become the nation’s premier proponent of judicial activism, Frist lashed out against Democrats who threaten to use filibusters to block corrupt, incompetent or ideologically extreme nominees for federal judgeships.
“One way or another, the filibuster of judicial nominations must end,” griped Frist, whose new cause offers another reminder that little changed when he replaced former Senate Majority Leader Trent Lott, the segregationist-praising Republican from Mississippi.
“This filibuster is nothing less than a formula for tyranny by the minority,” argued Frist, who claimed that if Democrats succeed in using procedural tactics to block some of President Bush’s nominees, “they will have effectively seized from the president the power to appoint judges.”
Frist’s rhetoric is dramatically overblown. Senate Democrats have cleared the way for the approval of the overwhelming majority of Bush’s judicial picks; they have used the threat of a filibuster to block only the nominations of 10 particularly unfit nominees for federal appeals court positions.
There is no “tyranny of the minority.” In fact, if Senate Democrats were to make real on the threat of a filibuster — which halts Senate action as one senator or a group of senators engage in an extended discussion of a nomination or issue being considered by the chamber — it would only be because there is no other way to get Senate Republicans and the White House to consult with the opposition party in the manner that the nation’s founders intended.
Frist delivered his bombastic remarks to the Federalist Society in an effort to try to scare Senate Democrats before the new session of Congress begins. If the Democrats launch a filibuster, or even threaten to employ the tactic in order to slow down the process of making judicial nominations, Frist signaled that GOP leaders in the Senate might implement what is refered to as “the nuclear option.”