Save the Filibuster

It doesn’t have the catchiness of “Save the Whales”, but it is still important. Our Senate leadership is looking to change the rules on filibusters of judicial appointments. I’ve signed an online petition aimed at convincing enough senators to oppose the “nuclear option” that we preserve the filibuster as a means of empowering the minority to reject particular judicial appointments.

Here’s what I put in my personal comment there:

Thirty years ago I was sitting in civics class listening to a description of government in our republic. I was told that our government went about its business by applying the will of the majority with respect to the minority, that the minority viewpoint was not unheeded. The checks and balances in our system of government preserved this state of affairs. Ben Franklin, were he keeping tabs, might be surprised at how long we have managed to keep this republic a republic.

That civics class, by the way, was in a Catholic high school. I’m a Protestant. This makes for layered ironies. Certainly, the Catholic community has been sensitive to the exercise of governmental power where it could prefer Protestantism over Catholicism. And in my time in high school, I got to know what it felt like to be in a minority group of some sort. It seems to me that our majority leadership in the Senate has forgotten what being in the minority is like, and why respecting the views of the minority is important in the maintenance of a republic.

We see news reports nearly weekly about new instances of civil unrest with violence somewhere in the world, even excepting known war zones and occupied regions. From the comfort of our padded recliners, we may feel sympathy for those poor people somewhere far away. What we tend not to think about is just how easily this kind of behavior could become the only way that those with unheeded views feel that they can become heard in the USA.

The action proposed by the Senate in eliminating the denial of particular judicial appointments by the minority has the potential to bring that unheeded feeling to more and more Americans. In their haste for a short-term benefit of rapidly placing any and all judicial nominees on benches, the Senate moves our system of government one step closer to the authoritarian models we see in the news all too often. There are plenty of people qualified for those appointments. Surely we can find the ones who identify with the majority without offending the minority. But this cannot happen if we choose to simply not listen to what the minority tries to tell us through our elected representatives.

Our founding fathers put together a system of government whose revolutionary principle was that the power that came from the people passed on in the appointed ways at the specified times. The transfer of the US presidency from George Washington to John Adams looks like trivia to us today, but to the citizens here and observers abroad at the time it must have been a stunning example of a new principle of governance. Washington’s acceptance of the limitations on his personal power gives us a model of correct behavior in our republic. This is a lesson that the Senate leadership needs to pay close attention to, just as I tried hard to learn my lessons in that long ago civics class. It just means a lot more to the USA whether the Senate leadership passes this test.

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Wesley R. Elsberry

Falconer. Interdisciplinary researcher: biology and computer science. Photographer. Husband. Christian. Activist.