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Crib Sheet: The Filibuster

Anything called the “nuclear option” can’t be good. Here is what you need to know.

Crib Sheet, May 2, 2005

Anything called the “nuclear option” can’t be good. Here is what you need to know.

By Nan Aron, President, Alliance for Justice

Over the past several weeks, the debate over judicial nominations has heated up. Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist and Senate Republicans have increased threats to do away with a legislative tradition called the filibuster in regard to judicial nominations. During President Bush’s first term, Senate Democrats rejected a handful of Bush’s most controversial, out-of-the-mainstream nominees for the federal courts of appeals – the courts just below the U.S. Supreme Court – by using the filibuster. Now Senate Republicans want to change the rules in the middle of the game with what people are calling the “nuclear option.” This partisan power grab would destroy Senate tradition and damage our system of checks and balances. And this isn’t just about a few appeals court nominees, it’s about the future of the Supreme Court, too!

Despite claims by Senate Republicans, the use of the filibuster for judicial nominations is constitutional, has precedent in history and has been used appropriately in the past several years.

In addition to destroying Senate tradition, and disrupting our system of checks and balances, the “nuclear option” will have disastrous consequences for our democracy.

This debate over the filibuster is not just about a few Circuit Court nominees it is about the future of the Supreme Court. With Chief Justice Rehnquist in poor health,and eight of the nine current justices over the age of 65, it is likely that there will be a vacancy on the Supreme Court in the next few months. The next appointment to the Supreme Court will have enormous implications for the future of justice in America. On issue after issue – civil rights, workers’ rights, reproductive rights, and environmental protections – the current Supreme Court is sharply divided. Just one vote on the Court could greatly expand the scope of our legal protections, or deprive us of the constitutional protections that we cherish.

For more information on the threat to the filibuster, please visit

Senator Frist and the Senate Republicans may trigger the “nuclear option” any day. Take action and urge your Senator to protect Senate tradition and save the filibuster!

Check out these recent articles on the filibuster and the nuclear option for more information:

Filibuster Vote Will Be Hard to Predict, By Charles Babington, The Washington Post, April 28, 2005

Senate GOP Sets Up Filibuster Showdown, By Charles Babington and Dan Balz, The Washington Post, April 22, 2005

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