Several weeks ago I wrote to my two senators, Elizabeth Dole and Richard Burr, about the importance of the filibuster in protecting the rights of the minority as, at that time, the question of the legality of filibusters on judicial nominees was in play. The Senate, I wrote them, was in George Washington’s formulation the saucer in which the nation’s passions were cooled, and by removing the check on majority power that the filibuster entailed the unique character of the Senate would be lost.
I expected to hear nothing back. Dole made no public statements that I can recall, and Burr gave a speech on the Senate floor in defense of up-or-down votes on all judicial nominees. Both voted for cloture on the filibuster to bring the nominees to a floor vote, and that, I assumed would be the most response I could expect back.
Imagine my surprise, then, to receive a two-page letter from Senator Burr today. Essentially, he restated his support for confirmation votes unfettered by filibuster by the minority party. He wrote:
I continue to have serious concerns about the Senate confirmation process. It is the Senate’s constitutional obligation to act on judicial nominations, and we owe it to the institution to uphold the long-standing tradition in the United States Senate to give all judicial nominees, who enjoy majority support, an up-or-down vote.
Unfortunately, there has never been a tradition to give all judicial nominees an up-or-down vote. Never. It used to be that one senator could block a vote on a judgeship for his own state. Many of President Clinton’s judicial nominees never received floor votes.
Ironically, this letter from Senator Burr arrived on the very day that I again mailed my Senators, this time over Karl Rove’s statement in New York City on Wednesday that liberals want to see our soldiers come to harm in Iraq. I’m curious as to the response I’ll receive this time.