A True Judicial Emergency

Edit Memo from Ralph G. Neas

Why the Most Important Supreme Court Story is Playing Out Before a Single Vacancy

The most important Supreme Court story of the next four years could play out in the next few weeks, even before there is a vacancy or nomination.

The “nuclear option” – the bare-knuckled power play that Senator Frist has embraced and is being pressured to deploy – would be as toxic as its name implies. If Frist and his allies succeed in eliminating the Senate filibuster with regard to judicial nominees, the fallout would be both immediate and long lasting. The Senate filibuster is part of our constitutional system of checks and balances. It prevents abuses of power by a narrow majority and forces bipartisan dialogue and cooperation on important, controversial questions. Frist and his allies are preparing to trash this rule and dramatically alter the unique deliberative role the Senate has played for more than 200 years.

Of course, they are willing to go to such extreme lengths because there is so much at stake. They hope the nuclear option will blast a clear path to the Supreme Court for even the most extreme nominees that President Bush might name. If Frist is successful, progressive efforts to prevent a Supreme Court dominated by far-right ideologues could be checkmated even before there is a vacancy. And if new Supreme Court justices in the mold of Antonin Scalia and Clarence Thomas are approved over the next four years, the civil rights, privacy, environment, reproductive rights, workers’ rights, and religious liberty precedents of the past seven decades will be at risk, along with the constitutional basis for future progressive government.

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