Princetonians Bring Filibuster to Capitol Hill

Posted May 11, 2005 at 6:48pm

Rain or shine, night or day, Cessnas intruding into D.C. airspace or not, a contingent of Princeton University students continued their protest of Majority Leader Bill Frist (R-Tenn.) and his proposed implementation of the “nuclear” option to end filibusters on judicial nominees.

For more than two weeks now, a hardy group of Princetonians has enacted a mock filibuster, talking non-stop in the hopes of drawing attention to Republican efforts to alter the process for approving judicial nominees. The group has been protesting outside of Princeton’s Frist Campus Center — a building built with money donated from the Senator’s family — and it has grown by leaps and bounds over time.

“We started off with a music stand,” recalled Laura Boyce. “And a megaphone. We got an umbrella, and a podium, and eventually a tent and a real microphone.”

Now, the students have taken their act on the road, visiting the National Mall on Wednesday and today. Using the Capitol as a backdrop and lined by placard-holding students featuring slogans such as “The filibuster — kicking it old school since 1789,” students and politicians alike took to the microphone.

Some, like D.C.’s shadow Sen. Paul Strauss (D), used their time on the stand to decry packing the courts with ideologues. Others took to more esoteric readings to express their point. One student read from the first book of the Homer’s “Iliad.” Another chose to read from Cervantes’ “Don Quixote” — in the original Spanish.

Sarah Zaslow, a freshman, looked to America’s past leaders for present-day inspiration. “I was going through a book of Abraham Lincoln’s speeches, and just marking the ones I want to read,” she said. She did not limit herself to former presidents however; she also planned to read excerpts from Milan Kundera’s “The Unbearable Lightness of Being.”

The students are in Washington, D.C., even though the university is in the middle of exams right now. “Rain or shine, cold, heat, we all had exams, we all had papers,” said Jason Vagliano. “We kept it going.”

Why is this intrepid group so dedicated to maintaining Senate traditions? Vagliano, citing James Madison, explains that “it’s really about protecting against the tyranny of the majority. I think the nuclear option steamrolls over the minority party.” He went on to reference a comment by Rep. Rush Holt (D-N.J.), who talked to the group earlier in the morning.

“Any fool can design a system of government where the majority has its way,” Vagliano quoted Holt as saying. “The beauty of our system is having this check and balance so there is input.”

The protest was slowed briefly when the Capitol was evacuated due to the accidental intrusion of a Cessna 152 into restricted air space.

“They evacuated everything east of Third Street,” Joshua Weitz said. Since the protest was on the west side of Third Street, all the group had to do was move across the street. When the all-clear sounded, participants and gawkers moved back to their previous positions, not missing a beat.

Not all Tigers are on board with the mock filibuster, however. The president of the Princeton College Republicans, Dylan Hogarty, blasted his co-students.

“The ivory tower liberals who have been conducting a ‘filibuster’ outside of the Frist Campus Center encapsulate perfectly what’s wrong with the Democratic Party in Washington,” he wrote in a release. “We know what they are against. … But no one has an idea what they support.”