Against the Filibuster

There’s a meme that goes around Twitter every now and again: express your unpopular opinion. Based on conversations I’ve had through the years, my views on the filibuster might be unpopular with large swathes of the right and probably even the left.

I’ve never been comfortable with the filibuster. The 60-vote threshold seemed like an especially onerous and unfair threshold when it came to judicial appointments, and I advocated nuking the filibuster long before Harry Reid helpfully did so a few years ago. Therefore, I was happy when Harry Reid and the Democrats abandoned the judicial filibuster, and not just because I knew then it would eventually come back to bite them on the ass.

But the filibuster’s artificial 60-vote threshold seemed unfair even when it came to ordinary legislation. While it is not unconstitutional, it is certainly an extra-constitutional mechanism. Sure, the Senate is free to set its own rules, and the constitution’s language doesn’t prohibit a higher floor either in the context of the Senate’s advice and consent role or for legislation to be deemed as passed by the Senate. Yet it seemed then, and still seems now an extra barrier to getting things done.

Conservatives in particular view the filibuster as a device that works in the interests of limited government. And whichever party happens to be the minority at the moment values the filibuster as a mechanism to help preserve their interests. But the constitution itself is already a document designed to slow the machinery of government. The filibuster is a cheat, and arguably does more to diminish reliance on these other constitutional designs. For instance, the higher threshold to get legislation through the Senate could lead (and has lead) presidents to make end-runs around Congress. In these cases, the filibuster not only doesn’t prevent whatever ill-considered action from going through, it promotes other unconstitutional behavior from the president. It also eliminates the opportunity for compromise that would minimize the potential deleterious effects of ill-advised action.

The filibuster is also unevenly applied. Depending on the specific type of legislation under consideration, it may not even be applicable. Now it no longer is available in the context of judicial nominations. This just leads to more parliamentary maneuvering that further undermines faith in the legislative process.

As alluded to above, reliance on the filibuster draws attention away from other constitutional mechanisms designed to restrain the government. The concentration of power in the executive and judicial branches is a much more serious threat to our constitutional order. If anything, the filibuster might prevent reforms from being enacted to address those concerns. The filibuster, especially if a conservative majority ever emerged in the Senate (I won’t hold my breath), actually would become a tool of the very administrative state we’re supposed to be fighting.

The filibuster is really designed to ensure debate takes place on contentious issues. I would have no problem with a system in which failure to invoke cloture simply meant debate would continue for some amount of time. But real debate would have to take place. Then, after the pre-determined period elapsed, a vote would occur regardless of whether the 60-vote threshold is met.

I thus have no problem with the filibuster as a means of slowing down the process to allow for more debate and potential compromise. It should not be an artificially high upper threshold meaning nothing gets by the Senate without a super-majority.

The Left’s Ill-Gotten Gains

I’m short on time for the next couple of days, so I won’t be able to post anything of substance. In the meantime, here’s a Kevin Williamson post which, as almost always, cuts to the heart of a matter. The left has been far more reliant on the Court to uphold rights it views as intrinsic, and that’s what scares them so much about the future of the Court.

And that is what terrifies the Left about the current direction of the Supreme Court. Roe v. Wadere presents ill-gotten political gains. While the NRA got a big win in the courts a few years back — one entirely in keeping with the actual text of the Constitution as it exists, not as progressives wish it were — it mainly has advanced its agenda and defended its agenda and defended its gains through ordinary democratic politics. It is not, contrary to the myth, a particularly big political donor or spender (not even in the top 100 last I checked) that gets things done by throwing money around. Until its recent (and, in my view, ill-advised) metamorphosis into a full-spectrum culture-war outfit, the NRA was a very disciplined and narrowly focused single-issue outfit, which made it truly bipartisan: Harry Reid may have been a train wreck on 99.99 percent of the issues, but he was solid on guns, and the NRA credited him for that.

NARAL and Planned Parenthood, who together form what we might understand as the NRA of abortion rights, are above all things terrified that they might be reduced to ordinary democratic political activism in a post-Roe world. They want to defend those ill-gotten gains, and they understand that the American consensus on abortion is a lot closer to the thinking of, say, George W. Bush than it is to that of the butchers’ guild. There is volatility in the polling, but by and large Americans take a pretty liberal view of abortion in the first trimester and in cases involving rape, incest, or serious threats to the health of the mother; they are open to many kinds of restriction and take a much more restrictive view as the pregnancy advances. If democratic preferences prevail, it is likely that U.S. abortion regulation will end up looking something more like what prevails in much of Europe. Not as restrictive as pro-lifers would like, but more restrictive than what we have.

Read the rest at the link I provided.

Rethinking Jeff Flake’s Rethinking

John McCormack credits Jeff Flake for helping to clear Brett Kavanaugh’s name through his push for a one week pause in the proceedings.

Shortly after 11 a.m. on Thursday, October 4, Democratic senators Dianne Feinstein and Chuck Schumer spoke to the press following a confidential briefing about the FBI’s supplemental background check. While the senators were limited about what they could say, Feinstein focused first on the fact that neither Kavanaugh nor Ford, who testified publicly for hours last week, were interviewed by the FBI.

If the FBI investigation had turned up some groundbreaking new information, that is not the kind of thing you’d expect the Democratic senators to focus on.

The FBI interviewed all the alleged party attendees—Ford’s lifelong female friend Leland Ingham Keyser, Kavanaugh friend P.J. Smyth, and alleged accomplice Mark Judge. Keyser had previously said she recalls no party at which Kavanaugh was present and does not know Kavanaugh. Schumer and Feinstein gave no indication Keyser has changed her story.

The FBI also interviewed Chris Garrett, a person Ford went out with around the time of the alleged assault in 1982 and Ford’s only known social connection to Kavanaugh and Judge. The FBI also interviewed Tim Gaudette, who hosted a July 1, 1982, party that has been the focus of much speculation. Schumer and Feinstein gave no indication those interviews turned up groundbreaking information.

Senate Judiciary Committee chairman Chuck Grassley said in a statement: “This investigation found no hint of misconduct and the same is true of the six prior FBI background investigations conducted during Judge Kavanaugh’s 25 years of public service.”

Republican senator Susan Collins of Maine, a key undecided vote, said this morning: “It appears to be a very thorough investigation.”

Indeed, the constant goalpost moving is a sure sign that the FBI investigation turned up nothing to corroborate Ford’s allegations, and other developments suggest Ford’s case against Kavanaugh is more suspect than we thought even a week ago.

So, did Flake wind up helping Kavanaugh, or at least did he help engineer something which will at ease some of the bitter feelings against him? I am not sure about that. Susan Collins is set to announce her vote, and Flake has already said he is now a yes (though he’s said that before). If Collins and/or Manchin vote for Kavanaugh, then he will be confirmed despite Lisa Murkowski’s no vote. At the very least, then, this pause didn’t hurt Kavanaugh.

But did it really make a difference? Did the general public’s opinion of the situation change appreciably? McCormack ably lays out the various ways the case against Kavanaugh has crumbled, but how many people are paying close attention and had their opinions change? That may be unknowable.

At the very least, I have been moved enough to delete an earlier post about Flake’s actions from a week ago. It was much too snarky and condescending, and in retrospect I let emotions run away from me.

Oddly, it was listening to Rush Limbaugh that caused me to delete the post. I have listened to Limbaugh only a handful of times in the past three years, and just happened to catch his program for a few minutes today. He was actually very understanding towards Flake, Collins, and Murkowski. The three of them have been inundated with calls, emails, tweets, etc, and they have received vile threats against them and their families. All Republicans have, but these three have borne the brunt of most of the anger. I can’t imagine what it would be like to face that much hate, and to receive credible threats against one’s security.

Buckling to the angry voices – as Flake may have done after being confronted by angry protesters – does embolden those angry voices, but I also haven’t been in his shoes. I’m not totally convinced Flake should receive credit for his seeming change of heart, but I’ll give him enough benefit of the doubt to back off my earlier denunciation.

Orval Faubus Comes to California

Though certainly not nearly a sentiment shared by most conservatives, some have suggested that the proper response to judicial overreach is to simply ignore the courts. In other words, for example, Donald Trump should have made like Andrew Jackson when his travel ban was put on hold and declared that “The Ninth Circuit has made its decision, let them enforce it.”*

More popular on the right – though again, not necessarily a majority opinion – is the concept of nullification. According to this theory, states are within their constitutional rights to ignore federal law that is facially unconstitutional. Thomas Jefferson justified this concept in his draft of the Kentucky Resolutions  (in response to the alien and sedition acts), though Madison did not go so far in the Virginia Resolutions.

Both sentiments are put forward as proof as the recklessness of the right. Furthermore, the intransigence of certain states righters is historically symbolized by the likes of Orval Fauvus, who defied the Supreme Court’s order to desegregate public schools. Thus these concepts are tied with the forces of evil and racism.

So which state is actively engaged in both nullification and defiance of court orders? Alabama? Mississippi? Texas? Look away, look away, look away, it’s California.

That’s right. Not only is California acting in de facto nullification by prohibiting all local governments from cooperating with federal officials to uphold immigration law, the state is now ignoring a court order barring the state from enforcing this statute upon charter cities who refuse to be sanctuary cities.

Despite an Orange County judge’s ruling this week that California’s so-called sanctuary protections for immigrants who are in the country illegally are unconstitutional as they apply to charter cities, state Atty. Gen. Xavier Becerra said Friday that the state would continue to uphold its laws.

“Preserving the safety and constitutional rights of all our people is a statewide imperative which cannot be undermined by contrary local rules,” Becerra said in a statement. “We will continue working to ensure that our values and laws like the California Values Act are upheld throughout our state.”

SB 54 is the law in question here, and I don’t see how it can be viewed as anything but nullification. In essence, California is saying it will not comply with federal law. Or, to put it a bit differently, it will refuse to cooperate with enforcement of federal law. Not only that, but it has prohibited municipalities from even thinking of cooperation.

More troubling, though, is the state’s ostentatious “eff you” to the ruling issued last week exempting charter cities in the state from the law. Not only will the state refuse to comply with the feds, it’s bluntly saying that no court will make it respect the will of resident in any locality which chooses not to participate in California’s defiance.

Most Californians vociferously denounce the supposed tyranny of President Trump, yet he has done nothing even remotely as brazen as this.

I must also chuckle at Becerra go on about “preserving” the “constitutional rights” of all Californians. So the constitutional rights of illegal aliens must be upheld, even though they possess no such rights. As for the lawful citizens of their state, such constitutional guarantees as the right to a republican form of government can safely be ignored.

And people wonder why much of the country looks upon California with disdain.

*It is not certain Andrew Jackson actually said this famous quote about Marshall, but the sentiment was a historical fact.