Interest Group Files Suit to Prevent Filibusters of Judicial Nominations

Posted May 15, 2003 at 12:28pm

A conservative watchdog group best known for dogging former President Bill Clinton with information requests and lawsuits has now filed suit against the Senate.

Judicial Watch is asking the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia to prevent the Senate from filibustering judicial nominations and to declare such tactics unconstitutional. The organization, which bills itself as a “public interest group that investigates and prosecutes government corruption and abuse,” filed its suit Wednesday.

The case seems to once again align Judicial Watch, headed by Larry Klayman, with Republicans, who have questioned the constitutionality of Democratic fillibusters against conservative judicial nominees Priscilla Owen and Miguel Estrada.

Two years ago, Bush nominated Estrada, a former assistant solicitor general, to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit and named Owen, a Texas Supreme Court justice, to a seat on the 5th Circuit.

Democrats have prevented floor votes on either nomination and a frustrated Majority Leader Bill Frist (R-Tenn.) has accused them of being “obstructionists.”

His efforts to end debate by invoking cloture have failed six times.

A pair of GOP Senators recently threatened to file suit against the chamber as well, but Judicial Watch beat Sens. Saxby Chambliss (Ga.) and Lindsey Graham (S.C.) to the punch.

But even Republicans acknowledge that a successful suit is a long shot, noting the courts’ traditional reluctance to become embroiled in political fights.

In making its case, Judicial Watch stated: “A minority of U.S. Senators have employed Senate Rules XXII and V to prevent the Senate from confirming nominees to federal judgeships. The unconstitutional application of the Senate rules, requiring a supermajority of 60 votes to end debate on a topic (known as ‘cloture’), is being exploited in a legally detrimental, exercise of political gamesmanship that causes harm to litigants in federal courts through significant, prejudicial delays.”

The group then noted that it is “second only to the U.S. government as the entity with the largest number of cases pending before the federal courts of the District of Columbia.”