Stage Is Set for 'Nuclear' Showdown

Senate Republicans are eyeing an April showdown over President Bush’s judicial nominees that could end in a Senate rule change–known as the “nuclear” option–that forbids filibusters of presidential nominees. Majority Leader Bill Frist (R.-Tenn.) told HUMAN EVENTS Tuesday the process was moving slowly, in part because the Judiciary Committee had yet to vote on a single nominee. Two days later, the committee approved Appeals Court nominee William Myers III on a party-line vote–but he is not the preferred candidate for a “nuclear” showdown. The pace is expected to quicken in April when the Senate returns from a two-week Easter recess. Judiciary Chairman Arlen Specter (R.-Pa.) is planning to act then on three conservative nominees: California Supreme Court Justice Janice Rogers Brown, Texas Supreme Court Justice Priscilla Owen and recess-appointed U.S. Circuit Judge William Pryor. None will require new hearings before a committee vote. Each was filibustered by Democrats in Bush’s first term. Although Myers is already out of committee, Frist has signaled no desire to follow Specter’s lead and bring him to up for a vote first. Some Republicans believe it would be more embarrassing for the Democrats if a showdown came over either females Owen or Brown, who is black. Meanwhile, Frist’s inaction has caused unease among Republicans. In January, he vowed a showdown on a nominee in February. When HUMAN EVENTS asked about the delay, Frist said: “I’m waiting for the Judiciary Committee, in part. I’m trying to use restraint to show that we’re being reasonable, making offers to be able to work out.” He also said he and Specter were “on the same page.” “The time is now, and yet there is some general confusion on the part of those who have been waiting to see the obstructionism stopped as to why something hasn’t already happened,” said Family Research Council Vice President Connie Mackey. The FRC partnered with Focus on the Family last week to launch a series of ads calling for swift action. Mark Levin, author of the best-selling Men in Black (published by HUMAN EVENTS-sister company Regnery) told HUMAN EVENTS: “I don’t think they should wait for any nominee. I don’t think it should be based on any nominee. I think it should be a nice, clean argument to the American people that what Hillary Clinton and Ted Kennedy and Chuck Schumer are doing is unconstitutional.” Senate Democrats have promised to once again filibuster the President’s judicial nominees, including several that Bush renominated February 14. Republicans, who lack the 60 votes to halt the filibuster, have devised the so-called nuclear option, which they prefer to call the constitutional option. It would alter Senate Rule XXII by requiring only a simple majority to approve a nominee. Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid (D.-Nev.) threatened earlier this week to halt Senate business if Republicans implement the nuclear option. But if Republicans finish the Iraq supplemental and other legislative priorities first, Reid’s threat would carry little significance. Looming, however, is the expected resignation of Chief Justice William Rehnquist, which may come by June. Conservatives fear if the Senate does not forbid judicial-nomination filibusters before then, it could adversely influence the President’s selection of a Rehnquist replacement.