Filibustering The Frist Center
April 29, 2005 1:50 PM   Subscribe

Princeton Students and Polticians Stage Filibuster -- Princeton students started a filibuster at the Frist Campus Center at Princeton University to protest the impending unloading of the "nuclear option" in the United States Senate. Bill Frist is a Princeton alum and his family donated the building the filibuster is in front of. It's been going on for a whopping 78 hours already and looks to at least go through the weekend. Congressman Rush Holt (D-NJ) spoke earlier today, and NJ Assemblyman Reed Gusciora was there yesterday. They've even got physicists (one and two) and a Nobel Prize winner.
posted by nathanrudy (20 comments total)
I tend to think most forms of "creative" protest are kind of lame, but I actually like this one. Takes a lot of energy and effort, which I respect.

In a side not, Rep. Reed Gusciora (one of the speakers) seems like a guy I could get behind.
posted by absalom at 1:59 PM on April 29, 2005

You should get your Nobel Prize revoked for speaking within the same hemisphere of this asshat.
posted by TetrisKid at 2:01 PM on April 29, 2005

Semi-S/L, but Asheesh Siddique, one of the students involved in this protest, has been blogging from the event on Campus Progress.
posted by XQUZYPHYR at 2:48 PM on April 29, 2005

I guess I have to give them points for creativity...
posted by gyc at 3:13 PM on April 29, 2005

Seems to me it would be better to protest whatever rank evil it is that the Republicans actually want to inflict, not to defend the filibustering which, this particular time, happens to be stopping them. The filibuster is an abuse of process second only to the attachment of unrelated matters to bills.

The trouble is that the designers of democratic institutions based their design for debate time on the concept of debate, which seems to have gone the way of the dodo. I wonder if polarization into two irreconcilable parties of approximately equal size is the end state of a representative democracy?
posted by aeschenkarnos at 3:41 PM on April 29, 2005

The filibuster is an abuse of process second only to the attachment of unrelated matters to bills.
I take this to mean you don't like the idea of filibusters, rather than that they stand out among all the other process tricks and doges and maneuvers and stalls as especially bad. Do you have the experience and knowledge to make the latter claim?

The difference between a filibuster and the nuclear option is that one is based on wonky Senate rules that have been around for a couple centuries or so as the way the Senate has agreed to work, while the other is based on a rather loopy unprecedented interpretation of the Constitution. Does it seem worth doing that just because you absolutely refuse to compromise enough to get 60 votes instead of 51?
posted by fleacircus at 4:16 PM on April 29, 2005

I'm sure Senator Frist will be devastated, and rethink his position on the filibuster.

Prof. Todd Zywicki:
Filibuster First Principles:
Here's a very simple puzzle that I don't get about the filibuster question. Leave aside the constitutional questions and particularities of procedures to change internal rules. As I understand it, the justification for the use of the filibuster in the Senate (contra the House) is that the Senate is a deliberative body, and that the filibuster permits extended debate on issues that come to the floor prior to taking a vote. But doesn't that imply that when the debate is done and there is no further deliberation, that there is some obligation to bring the matter to a vote?

So here's my question. Is there still some debate going on with respect to Justice Owen, for instance, whose nomination has now been pending for 4 years? Are there some Senators who are still on the fence, undecided on how they want to vote on her nomination? If deliberation is done, doesn't that mean that there is an implicit obligation to allow the matter to come to a vote? And if there is no ongoing debate or further deliberation on the matter, then it seems to me that the the Senate should be able to adopt rules that allow fully-deliberated matters to come to a vote and not allow the minority to use the filibuster to kill a matter.

In fact, the majority needed to invoke cloture has fallen over time (summarized here). Looking at the history, it appears that the rationale for changing the filibuster rules over time has been to balance the rights of the majority to act versus the rights of the minority to state their case. Thus, where the filibuster has been abused by a minority to kill legislation, as opposed to merely slowing it and ensuring full deliberation, the Senate has moved over time to reduce minority abuse of the filibuster while preserving full deliberation. In light of this history, given the apparent absence of any further debate on some of the judicial nominees, it seems plain that the use of the filibuster against Justice Owen (most notably) is quite clearly an abuse of the power. As a result, if the minority fails to end its abuse voluntarily, the Senate majority would be well within its rights to adopt rules that eliminate abuse of the filibuster power, just as it always has in the past.

This distinction between the use of the filibuster to slow versus stop a particular Senate actions seems to be the intuition behind the historic criticism of the use of the filibuster to kill Civil Rights Legislation (and before that, the repeated use of the filibuster to kill anti-lynching legislation of the 1920s and 1930s). In each of those situations, the purpose of the filibuster was its use by southern Senators to kill the legislation outright, rather than merely to ensure full deliberation of the issue prior to a vote. Moreover, this may explain why in the public mind the abuse of the filibuster is associated with such stunts as Senators reading names from a phone book, because these sorts of speeches are seen as abuse of the filibuster, in that they are non-deliberative in nature.

I can't find anything in the Senate history that suggests that it has ever been thought an appropriate use of the filibuster to kill legislative action even after all debate and deliberation is effectively complete. And where the filibuster has been used in an abusive manner to kill rather than slow legislative activity, my reading of the history is that over time the majority has changed the rules in order to eliminate the abusive use of the filibuster power.

Of course, it should be noted the asserted rationale for the filibuster in the Senate may be an ex post rationalization more than an historic justification. Some have argued that the filibuster has nothing at all to do with the nature of the Senate versus the House, but rather is a historical accident. As a historian of the filibuster recently observed:
The right to extended debate was not created until 1806, when the Senate cleaned up its rulebook and dispensed—probably by mistake—with the rule that allowed a majority to limit the debate. Filibusters did not begin in earnest until the newly formed Democratic and Whig parties formed several decades later.

[emphasis added]
posted by Steve_at_Linnwood at 4:30 PM on April 29, 2005

“Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist said Tuesday that federal judges’ rejection of efforts by Congress to keep Terri Schiavo alive will not affect the escalating dispute between Democrats and Republicans over President Bush’s judicial nominees.

‘I don’t associate the two issues directly,’ Frist told reporters.

Frist, R-Tenn., declined to join with conservatives who have complained about the federal court system in relation to the Schiavo case. ‘I believe we have a fair and independent judiciary today,’ he said.

[C]onservatives are mounting a campaign against what they call activist federal judges. House Majority Leader Tom DeLay, R-Texas, Sen. Sam Brownback, R-Kan., and other conservatives who advocated for Schiavo have planned a conference on Thursday and Friday called ‘Confronting The Judicial War On Faith’ with the lawyer for Schiavo’s parents.”

Although the federal review ‘was not as complete as we would like,'’ Frist said, he still thought the courts were ‘fair and independent.’
[emphasis added]
posted by XQUZYPHYR at 4:55 PM on April 29, 2005

Being a Nashvillian, when i saw "Filibustering The Frist Center" in the title, I thought, how can you filibuster an art museum?

(Though now that I look at the effort in question, maybe the art museum idea is no stranger than what's already going on. Anyone want to go protest with me?)
posted by ChrisTN at 5:00 PM on April 29, 2005

Leave aside the constitutional questions and particularities of procedures to change internal rules.
Amusing start. Leaving aside the constitutional questions and the procedures to change internal rules is something you gotta do to be a fan of the nuclear option.

Leaving aside all else, let's say that you had found a compelling argument that filibusters are Bad, S@L.

Both parties have employed the filibuster -- hundreds of times -- and it has become something that gets worked around or not, accepted as part of the landscape like many other quirky parliamentary rules that may have once had meaning, sorta like the electoral college, or neckties. Let's leave that aside and suppose that filibusters just have to go based on the merits of what a filibuster is and nothing else.

It's true that the Senate did reduce the filibuster-ending votes from 67 to 60, once. But they didn't reduce it to 51, and I assume they did it through the normal process by which the Senate changes its rules. So the Senate has visited the issue before and they think 60 is the right number, apparently. Why didn't they abolish it then? "Let's just trend towards it," they must have said.

I think we should leave another question that arises if you accept the nuclear option: if a majority of the Senate can just abrogate any process of a committee that defies the will of the majority why bother having the committee at all?

So now that we've left aside everything in the way of S@L's implied argument for ending the filibuster, I think we have a compelling case that the Senate should listen to. Clearly the Senate should change its own rules, perhaps at some later time when passions are not running so high over a current stubborn conflict. At that time the Senate can amend its own rules with the usual 67 votes won through debate and compromise. Or does the nuclear option apply to that 67 vote limit, too? Surely if a rule is unconstitutional you can just zap it with 50 votes and a cooperative Vice President.

They can even vote in the "51 votes is all it takes to change the rules from now on" rule and make it official, because obviously they were wrong in the past when they thought 67 votes was what you needed to change the rules of the Senate.
posted by fleacircus at 5:19 PM on April 29, 2005

(And I move to end the use of long quotes in double-small)
posted by fleacircus at 5:25 PM on April 29, 2005

I find the entire concept of a filibuster to be absurd. If there is a serious matter to be voted on you shouldn't be reading out of a telephone directory. You should be [directly] making your point and getting on to the vote.

I still remember learning about it in middle school and it's the sort of thing that, combined with the oddity of the word, makes the entire class murmer. You mean adults do this?

Props to the Princeton students on a nice protest, though.
posted by reflection at 6:01 PM on April 29, 2005

Also, the Senate has always held to the right for endless debate. It's the cloture that's new, not the filibuster.

And, reflection, no one actually reads out of a telephone directory anymore, they just have to indicate it. So no, adults don't do this.
posted by fleacircus at 6:54 PM on April 29, 2005

Indicate a filibuster, not indicate a telephone directory :)
posted by fleacircus at 6:55 PM on April 29, 2005

This game is really simple:

1) Republicans nominate a bunch of judges that they know are extremely partisan, and not particularly acceptable.

2) This forces the democrats to filibuster (or threaten to filibuster)

3) Republicans make a big stink about how unfair a filibuster would be, and remove the ability to filibuster juducial nominees.

4) A supreme court vacancy comes up, and Republicans have the oh-so-convenient right to appoint anybody they want, with no danger of a filibuster.
posted by mosch at 3:16 AM on April 30, 2005

Filibustering the crybaby option is a good thing.

A 95% approval rating for judgeships is excellent.

What is unprecedented is a crybaby President recycling nominations that have already been rejected as too extremist.

There's little else to discuss here. Withdraw the rejected nominations, like all other Presidents have done, and nominate candidates that are acceptable for the bench.

A filibuster is a filibuster is a filibuster. Both sides have used it to protect against the tyranny of the majority, even Frist, so cry me a river.

Get over it.
posted by nofundy at 6:35 AM on April 30, 2005

Where's S@L's argument for the nuclear option?
posted by fleacircus at 10:21 AM on April 30, 2005

for once, something about ol' pton to be proud of!
posted by jann at 1:54 PM on April 30, 2005

As a brit the word filibuster is one of those exotic americanisms the full meaning of which I still have yet to grasp. Anyway, what I can say is that my department is right by the first campus center and these folks have been at this for days come rain or shine. I have to walk past them every time I want to get a cup of coffee, and it took a friend to explain to me the significance of what they were doing. I just saw people talking into megaphones and, in the midst of my caffeine-lust, thought nothing of it...
posted by ob at 2:51 PM on April 30, 2005

Greetings from the Frist Filibuster support tent! We’ve been going strong for 106 hours now, and are permitted through May 4th. This is quite a development, considering that we initially planned for just two days of mock debate. The response we’ve gotten from this action has been incredible. Absolutely incredible. It seems like we’re being covered everywhere I look. But…I admit that not everyone is looking where I am looking. At this point I wonder what the rest of the country (especially those people who aren’t plugged in to the national political scene, knowledgeable about campus goings-on, or—perhaps most commonly?—aware that things like blogs even exist) think about us. I wonder if they know about us. I wonder how they would find out about us!? So I say that everyone who does know about this filibuster in support of the filibuster should make it a point to mention it to at least one person who couldn’t possibly know about it. Speak in support, or debate its merits with them if you feel the need. Could you all do that?
posted by I Just Bake the Cookies at 5:05 PM on April 30, 2005

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