Hendrik Hertzberg writes another great article in this week's New Yorker. This one is, in fact, more important than the last one I posted -- I really recommend reading it.
Last week's New Yorker featured a disturbing article ("Blowing Up the Senate") about the "nuclear option" Republicans are seriously considering in order to end all Democratic filibusters on Bush's most right-wing judicial nominees. I'll let Hertzberg describe:
Now it turns out that the filibuster is not the ultimate weapon after all. It’s merely the penultimate one. As Jeffrey Toobin reported in these pages last week (“Blowing Up the Senate”), the real ultimate weapon is—shades of Joe McCarthy!—the point of order. Here’s how it would work. Normally, under the Senate’s famous Rule XXII, it takes sixty senators, three-fifths of the full membership, to cut off debate and proceed to a vote. However, during a debate on a judicial nominee, a Republican senator would ask the Presiding Officer to rule that further debate is out of order. The Presiding Officer—Vice-President Cheney—would so rule. The ruling would be challenged, of course. But because such a challenge can be tabled by the vote of a simple majority, and because there are fifty-five Republican senators, the ruling would be upheld. And, boom, that would be that—a piece of procedural ordnance so devastating in its effects and its aftermath that it has been nicknamed “the nuclear option.”
The filibuster has always been controversial, and as Hertzberg points out, it has been used historically for some pretty atrocious purposes, but doing away with it thus, for the judicial nomination process, would be unprecedented and plain undemocratic. Hertzberg observes that, after all, the current Senate's 55 Republicans represent 131 million people, while its 44 Democrats represent 161 million.
It's no secret that Republicans would use the nuclear option to ram through nominees like Antonin Scalia. Hertzberg excellently calls attention to perhaps the tidbit of news from last week I found most incredible: Scalia, in addition to blasting his fellow Supreme Court Justices for ruling that the execution of minors is unconstitutional and morally indefensible (Only the likes of Iran and China still sanction it), called the Ten Commandments "a symbol of the fact that government derives its authority from God," during the recent case involving two Kentucky courthouses displaying the Commandments.
Somewhat reassuringly, Hertzberg reports that Democrats vow to raise hell if Republicans try the nuclear option. I think those of us not in the Senate should, too.
Edit: Just got an e-mail from MoveOn about this very issue. I'll post it as a comment.