Minority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., hit on something important when he criticized Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell last week for using the so-called “nuclear option” to limit debate on most presidential nominees.
Republicans, he said, were putting ideology ahead of the institution of the Senate. They were trying to use the courts to enact laws that can’t pass Congress.
The only thing wrong with that statement is that this tactic is not something unique to Republicans. Democrats are just as guilty.
Just look at how they responded to McConnell’s decision last week. One of Schumer’s former aides said the party should “take this ball and run with it” when Democrats one day regain power.
Some are even clamoring to expand the Supreme Court, should Democrats regain majorities in the House and Senate and control the White House again — revising an old, discredited threat Franklin Roosevelt once used during the early days of the New Deal.
That would be the ultimate dereliction of duty — the bending of the will of the judiciary to the political aims of one party, thus destroying the delicate balance of three co-equal branches of government so carefully crafted by the Founders.
It also would defy the record of the Supreme Court, where a majority of conservative appointments in recent decades has failed to fundamentally reverse decisions such as the abortion decision, Roe v. Wade. Justices apparently take their independent status seriously, as indeed they should.
Tinhorn dictators and banana republics are known for their subservient judicial wings, where judges bow to the wishes of the nation’s ruler and the people never can be guaranteed the justice that only independent courts can provide. That must never be the fate of the United States.
As we’ve said in the past, Congress caused this crisis by abdicating its responsibility to debate the hard issues, reach compromises and pass laws. They have pushed this not only to the courts, but to the executive branch, as well, where bureaucratic rule-making authority and executive orders have, at least temporarily, the same force as law.
On issues from immigration reform to the passage of a budget, members of both parties have found it more politically profitable to emphasize their differences with their opponents than to work for meaningful solutions. Painting the other side as evil or intractable tends to be better for fundraising, but it is not good for the country.
McConnell’s decision to limit debate was only the latest move to reduce the minority party’s power to influence appointments, and thus limit the necessity for real debate and compromise in the Senate.10 comments on this story
We were pleased to see Utah Sen. Mike Lee join Susan Collins of Maine as the only two Republicans to vote against the change.
Senators of both parties worry that the next casualty of partisanship will be the filibuster, which allows members of the minority party to stall legislation unless overridden by a 60 percent vote of the body.
None of these moves would be necessary if the legislative branch would gain a backbone and reassert its constitutional role as the nation’s lawmaking body — the place where the people’s representatives grapple with uncomfortable issues and craft difficult solutions.