One of the most egregious abuses of power occurred on Thursday, February 27, when Hatch violated clear and explicit Judiciary Committee rules that prevent the Committee from moving to a final vote on any matter before the committee without the support of at least one member of the minority party.* Over the strenuous objections of several Democratic Senators, Hatch insisted that the rule did not apply to nominations – a specious claim that had never been made before – and that he would call for a final vote on appeals court nominees Deborah Cook and John Roberts, even though no Democrats supported the motion to bring them to a vote.
In spite of objections from Sen. Patrick Leahy and others, Hatch called the roll for votes on nominees Deborah Cook and John Roberts even though Democrats were calling for additional hearings on their nominations. (Democratic senators have urged that Hatch schedule Cook and Roberts for additional confirmation hearings, since there was little opportunity to question them at the hearing in which Hatch had simultaneously scheduled three controversial appeals court nominees.) A number of Democrats passed or voted present, with Leahy specifically reading aloud the rule that Hatch was violating and seeking to reserve his right to object to further proceedings.
Since then, Hatch has changed his explanation, claiming that Rule IV does not apply to the Committee Chairman. He now claims in essence that the Chairman’s power to call for a vote on a matter is absolute regardless of agreed upon rules of procedure, and that Rule IV is actually a rule that gives members the right to push for a vote that is being delayed by the Chair.
Hatch’s claims are demonstrably false. As recently as 1997, in connection with the consideration of the nomination of Bill Lann Lee to be assistant attorney general, Hatch explicitly acknowledged that “[a]bsent the consent of a minority member of the Committee, a matter may not be brought to a vote.” (Transcript of Judiciary Committee meeting of November 13, 1997 at 6) (emphasis added) As Senate Minority Leader Tom Daschle wrote to Hatch on March 4, Rule IV “clearly establishes a Committee filibuster right.”
In contrast to his past support for procedures that protect the interests of the minority party, Hatch has unilaterally claimed the authority to repeal the one Committee rule that would prevent the majority from running roughshod over the minority in the Judiciary Committee. His move would leave Democrats with only the filibuster on the Senate floor, another procedure whose legitimacy he and his colleagues are now questioning.
* The Rules of Procedure of the Senate Judiciary Committee (downloaded from the Commitee’s website on 3/29/01) clearly permit such a committee filibuster. Rule IV of the Committee, entitled “Bringing a Matter to a Vote,” states specifically that:
The Chairman shall entertain a non-debatable motion to bring a matter before the Committee to a vote. If there is objection to bring the matter to a vote without further debate, a rollcall vote of the Committee shall be taken, and debate shall be terminated if the motion to bring the matter to a vote without further debate passes with ten votes in the affirmative, one of which must be cast by the minority. (emphasis added).
In other words, a matter cannot be brought to a vote without at least one member of the minority agreeing to do so.