Norm Coleman: Aye on Nuclear Option

Senator Norm Coleman (R-MN) gave a pretty good explanation of why he supports the so-called “nuclear option” in a Senate speech Thursday:

Mr. President, I rise to share a few thoughts on the issue of how this body should deal with the confirmation of judges appointed by the President.

When I joined this body, I swore an oath to protect and defend the Constitution of the United States. That document gives each Senator the responsibility to give “advice and consent” to judges appointed by the President. The Constitution does not talk about filibusters or cloture votes. It just gives me that job to do…

…the Senate is not a rigid, ancient relic that has remained static for these 200 plus years. The Senate is a great institution because over the generations it has found a way to stay faithful to its ideals and get its work done at the same time. We are at such moment.

Let me illustrate it this way. Mr. President, this (hold up) small booklet is a copy of the Standing Rules of the Senate. It is 71 (thumb to the back) pages long. It is very simple, straightforward and with a refreshingly small number of rules.

This (hold up) fat book, on the other hand, is called Senate Procedure. It has (thumb) 1608 pages. This book (right hand) is the interpretation and application of what this book ((left hand) means. The Senate proceeds by precedent. In a body of this many lawyers, issues come up about what the rules hold. They are presented to the Chair. Once the chair rules, that is the procedure of the Senate until a new precedent is made. This Procedure book is literally hundreds of pages of times precedents have been made and changed by this body.

On several occasions, when Senator Byrd was Majority Leader, and directly responsible for getting the Senate’s work done, he established new precedents specifically in the area we are debating: the filibuster rule. They are called “the Byrd precedents.” In 1977, 1979, 1980, and 1987, these new precedents either limited the right to extended debate in this body, or removed from the Senate the right to decide certain questions ordinarily reserved to it rather than the presiding officer.

So, there is nothing earth shattering about the Senate establishing precedents or clarifying rules. In fact, let me tell you what my predecessor in the United States Senate said in 1969. The late, great Hubert H. Humphrey from the Great State of Minnesota said:

“There is perhaps no principle more firmly established than the constitutional right of the Senate under article I, section 5 to ‘determine the rules of its proceedings.’ The right to determine includes the right to amend. No one has ever, to the Chair’s knowledge, seriously suggested that a resolution to amend the Senate rules required the vote of more than a simple majority. On a par with the right of the Senate to determine its rules, though perhaps not set forth so specifically in the Constitution, is the right of the Senate, a simple majority of the Senate, to decide constitutional questions.”

My point is not to make Vice President Humphrey’s point so much as it is to simply underscore that what the majority proposes to do today in terms of clarifying the rules is a hardly novel concept.

But now that the shoe is on the other foot, members of the Minority are talking as if establishing a precedent is some sort of Constitutional obscenity, when the Senate has done it thousands of times over the last two hundred years, many times at their request.

The Senate is between a rock and hard place. We have a Constitutional responsibility, not to vote on cloture motions, but to give advice and consent. But the Minority has adopted the practice, not once but many times, of preventing the Senate from doing its job via the filibuster.

There is a misnomer being thrown around. An attempt by the current Majority Leader to set a new precedent on the specific matter of confirmation of judicial nominees is being called the “nuclear option.”

I think it is being applied to the wrong side of the argument.

It is the Minority that has exercised a “nuclear option” time and time again. We are supposed to be the world’s greatest deliberative body. We discuss. We debate. We try to reach consensus and often we do. But in extreme cases Senators resort to the filibuster. But what the Minority has done is go “nuclear” – literally blowing up the process – in a way that’s never been done in the history of the Senate.

They are filibustering qualified judges who have bipartisan support under the management and direction of their leadership.

I must say to the leadership on the other side of the isle, if you fear the consequences of a new precedent, you are reaping what you have sown.

The Senate must get its work done. These courts need judges to allow justice to be done on a timely basis. The Senate is about to do what it has done countless times before (hold up Procedure): set a limited new precedent that allows us to fulfill our Constitutional responsibility to give advice and consent.

Let me make myself clear, if we were talking about a precedent relative to the legislative calendar, I would come over to your side of the argument in a minute. Even though I object to it on substance, I support your right to filibuster the energy bill and the malpractice bill and the highway bill and on and on and on.

But when you prevent the Senate from achieving its Constitutional requirement to give advice and consent – vote yes or no – you leave the body no choice but to make a specific change or, perhaps more to the point in this case, a clarification in the precedent to allow that to happen.

We bend over backwards to protect minority views in this Senate, but eventually majority has to rule. A duly elected president and duly elected members of the Senate have a right and responsibility to do what they were elected to do.

The best traditions of the Senate, and the best interests of our nation, require us to do that. And speaking as one member of the majority, we are not going to be intimidated into failing that responsibility.

The National Center for Public Policy Research is a communications and research foundation supportive of a strong national defense and dedicated to providing free market solutions to today’s public policy problems. We believe that the principles of a free market, individual liberty and personal responsibility provide the greatest hope for meeting the challenges facing America in the 21st century.