Judicial resolution still out of reach

A long-standing effort to try to resolve the standoff on the judicial filibuster has yet to produce an agreement that negotiators can live with.

Sen. Trent Lott (R-Miss.), who has been holding talks with Sen. Ben Nelson (D-Neb.) and other senators on how to avert a showdown on judges, told The Hill, “There’s not a deal.” Lott also said it wouldn’t be accurate to say that a deal is close.
patrick g. ryan
Sen. Trent Lott (R-Miss.)

Lott and Nelson have been trading ideas and concrete language that could be the framework of a possible compromise. But substantial differences remain that could be beyond reconciliation. In particular, the two have not figured out a way to deal with seven of President Bush’s circuit-court nominees who have been filibustered.

Under one framework being floated, four of these nominees would go forward and three would not. “How do you pick the three?” Lott asked, arguing that such an arrangement was unfair. He said that any kind of deal that left two female nominees “hanging out there” was unacceptable — a reference to Priscilla Owen and Janice Rogers Brown.

Lott said a better solution was to let all of the judges get an up-or-down vote, adding that there is at least one nominee he would not vote for.

As part of his discussions with Nelson, Lott said, Republicans would provide assurances not to exercise the so-called “nuclear option” to break the filibuster through a majority vote and Democrats would pledge not to filibuster nominees besides those who were “extremely controversial,” according to the latest language proposed by Nelson. An earlier version would have had Democrats pledge to vote for cloture to end filibusters except under “extreme circumstances.”

Judiciary Chairman Sen. Arlen Specter (R-Pa.) said any deal amounting to a “quid pro quo” would confirm public cynicism about Washington deals made “behind closed doors.” He suggested a step-by-step solution, where nominees are given votes individually, and said that some Republicans might decide to join Democrats to oppose some nominees down the road.

Specter called for conciliatory steps and noted that Democrats were not planning to filibuster the nomination of Thomas Griffith, Bush’s pick for the D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals.