Barely four months into their tenure, two freshman Republicans are leading a charge to file a lawsuit against the very Senate they now serve in, challenging the constitutionality of Democratic filibusters of President Bush’s judicial nominees.
Sens. Lindsey Graham (S.C.) and Saxby Chambliss (Ga.), both elected to their seats last year while serving in the House, are actively researching the constitutional and procedural mechanisms for filing a suit against the Senate. Other Republicans may join the effort soon.
"Lindsey Graham and I have talked seriously and extensively about this," Chambliss said, noting that it would be some time before a final decision is made and the lawsuit actually filed. "We’re thinking through it, we’ve got people researching it."
A lawsuit is one of several options Senate Republicans are considering to try to break the ongoing Democratic blockade of Bush’s circuit court nominees, and their move comes as the GOP tries to retool its message in the run-up to what they are billing as "Democrat Obstruction Day."
That’s Friday, May 9, the two-year anniversary of the day Bush sent to Capitol Hill his first batch of judicial nominees, a group of conservative judges, lawyers and legal scholars who have collectively met a tough match in Senate Democrats. Miguel Estrada, nominated that day to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit, and Texas Supreme Court Justice Priscilla Owen, nominated to the 4th Circuit, have been blocked by a Democratic filibuster this spring that has left their nominations on life support.
Other nominees, including the previously rejected U.S. District Judge Charles Pickering of Mississippi, are likely to face a similar filibuster from Senate Democrats, who contend that Bush is trying to pack the courts with lifetime appointees so conservative they will destroy critical civil rights protections.
Senate Republicans have grown increasingly frustrated in their inability to beat back the filibusters, as Democrats have contended there has been no public outcry resulting from their actions, despite week upon week of GOP efforts to portray Minority Leader Tom Daschle (D-S.D.) and other Democrats as obstructionists.
The lawsuit option may be their last hope of a long-term victory in defeating the filibustering of judges, although it’s unlikely the courts could handle something quickly enough to have any impact on the short-term battles currently being waged on the floor.
Conservative activists and some GOP Senators had been publicly mulling for weeks the constitutional question of whether Democrats can force a 60-vote majority for confirming a president’s nominees. But Chambliss and Graham’s decision to take the lead role in the legal assault on Democrats is somewhat of a surprise, given that they were only sworn into office on Jan. 7.
Somewhat mockingly, one veteran Democrat questioned how well the two freshmen really knew the chamber’s rules.
"They’ve only served here, what, about four months," said Sen. Byron Dorgan (D-N.D.), a member of Daschle’s leadership team.
But Chambliss and Graham hardly consider it a laughing matter.