Filibuster’s Future

Posted March 14, 2003 at 6:05pm

Sen. Zell Miller (D-Ga.) wants to weaken the most potent arrow in the Democrats’ quiver by offering legislation that would lower the threshold of a filibuster on successive cloture votes. [IMGCAP(1)]

Currently, 41 Senators can block just about any piece of legislation or nomination moving across the Senate floor. Miller’s legislative proposal, offered Thursday, would keep the 60-vote requirement intact on the first cloture vote. But on the second cloture vote it would decrease to 57 votes, and on the third vote only 54 votes would be needed to break a filibuster. If a fourth vote is needed, only a simple majority, or 51 votes, would be needed to pass a bill or approve a nominee.

“I just can’t stand by any longer and watch this filibuster rule hijack the democratic process,” Miller said in a statement. “The way it is being used today in the Senate gives the minority an absolute veto on everything.”

Miller is particularly irked by his own party’s recent stand to block the confirmation of judicial nominee Miguel Estrada to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit. For weeks, Democrats have prevented Estrada from being confirmed.

A similar effort by Sens. Tom Harkin (D-Iowa) and Joe Lieberman (D-Conn.) to weaken the filibuster rule was soundly defeated 76-19 in 1995.

Surivivors’ Rights. Reps. Henry Waxman (D-Calif.), Eliot Engel (D-N.Y.) and Jan Schakowsky (D-Ill.) are filing an amicus brief supporting the position of the state of California in the case American Insurance Association v. California Insurance Commissioner Harry Low, which will be argued before the Supreme Court at the end of April.

The case involves a California law that requires insurance companies operating in the state to disclose basic information about their Holocaust-era policies for publication in a state Holocaust Registry.

Companies say the law violates the Commerce Clause because it attempts to regulate foreign companies and it violates federal jurisdiction in foreign affairs.

In a “Dear Colleague” letter requesting support for their efforts, the lawmakers explain that “this is a case about States’ Rights and a plight for Holocaust survivors who have suffered too long.” They argue Congress, under the Commerce Clause, gave states the right to regulate insurance and evaluate the conduct of companies operating in their jurisdictions, whether they are foreign or domestic, citing the McCarren-Ferguson Act of 1948.

— Mark Preston and Amy Keller