Man Without Qualities


Wednesday, May 25, 2005


Inquiring About A "Parliamentary Inquiry"

Writing in Opinion Journals' e-mail feature "Political Diary," John Fund notes this curious development:
[M]aneuvering over filibusters continues... Yesterday, Senator Carl Levin, a Michigan Democrat, rose to make a "parliamentary inquiry" meant to establish that filibusters would remain a valid tool enabling a minority to block judicial nominations with a mere 41 votes. Thus he asked Senator John Sununu, the New Hampshire Republican who was sitting as the Senate's temporary presiding officer, how many votes to end a filibuster were required "under the rules and precedents of the Senate." ... Mr. Sununu ignored the question. ... "Is there an answer to my parliamentary inquiry, Mr. President?" Mr. Levin finally said. Again, no answer from Mr. Sununu. After another 30 seconds of silence, the Senate clerk began calling the roll on whether debate should end on Ms. Owen's nomination to an appeals court.

Inquiring minds want to know what is the binding effect of the answer to such a "parliamentary inquiry" - and is such a response subject to immediate challenge or confirmation by Senate vote? Does a "parliamentary inquiry" allow a path around the Kausian Blackberry Option:
[I]f they don't have the sure votes to beat back the proposed Frist/Cheney ruling that you can't filibuster a judicial nominee, Democrats will just decide not to filibuster each particular judicial nominee as that nominee comes up. That means those nominees will be confirmed, one-by-one, but Democrats will avoid setting an anti-filibuster precedent that would affect how Supreme Court nominees are considered later on. ... The key here is that the vote on cloture precedes the vote on the parliamentary "nuclear" rules change.

But Senator Levin's "parliamentary inquiry" came before the Senate clerk began calling the roll on whether debate should end on Ms. Owen's nomination to an appeals court.

Could Republicans pose a "parliamentary inquiry" on the Constitutionality of the filibuster as applied to judicial nominations just as Senator Levin did - obtain a response from the Senate President that under the Constitution only a simple majority is required to impose cloture, and then put the matter to a full Senate vote - all before the Senate clerk begins calling the roll on whether debate should end on whatever judicial nominations are then before the Senate, thereby depriving the Democrats of the Blackberry Option?

Just asking.

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