Tag Archives: US Senate

SCOTUS: The Nuclear Option is Not Enough

U.S. Supreme Court building.
U.S. Supreme Court building. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

On January 31,  president Donald Trump nominated federal appellate judge Neil Gorsuch to fill a vacancy on the US Supreme Court created nearly a year before by Associate Justice Antonin Scalia’s death.

More than two months later — nearly 14 months since  Scalia’s passing and after 13 months of Republican stalling and refusal to even consider former president Barack Obama’s nomination of appellate judge Merrick Garland — the US Senate is finally set to vote on Gorsuch’s nomination once it clears a final procedural hurdle (more on that below).

Unlike most politically engaged Americans, I have no strong opinion on the character or qualifications of Neil Gorsuch (or, for that matter, Merrick Garland). Because they’re appointed for life, Supreme Court justices tend to develop minds of their own rather than slavishly fulfilling the wishes of the presidents who nominate them or the parties they claim affiliation with.

I do, however, have strong and very negative opinions on the melodrama attending the whole process.

Chief Justice John Marshall was nominated to his position on January 20, 1801. The Senate stalled, declining to confirm Marshall and pushing president John Adams to substitute someone else. The matter dragged on … for seven whole days before a vote. Marshall took his seat on the court less than two weeks after Adams asked him to serve.

Two weeks in 1801, when news traveled at the speed of horse. Fourteen months in 2016-17, when news travels at the speed of light. What’s wrong with this picture?

What’s wrong with it is that the Senate is a dilatory, time-wasting, procedurally hidebound body that these days walks (at a snail’s pace) every action of significance through multiple hearings in front of various committees before acting.

The final procedural hurdle I mentioned above is called “cloture.” It’s a vote to end debate, wrap the matter up and give Gorsuch the Senate’s final,  for real, thumbs up or (or down).

Under current Senate rules cloture requires 60 votes. Republicans, with a bare majority in the Senate and no hope of winning cloture, are threatening “the nuclear option” — a rules change, which only requires a majority, to make cloture itself a mere majority vote.

I don’t think the “nuclear option” is enough. I’m with MacBeth: “If it were done when ’tis done, then ’twere well It were done quickly.”

Instead of changing the cloture rules, why not change the entire confirmation procedure? Put a hard deadline in the rules: On the tenth day following nomination, the nominee receives an up or down vote of the full Senate, period, no exceptions.  Pre-vote committees get that long, and no longer, to do their jobs.

The Constitution calls for the Senate’s “advice and consent” on presidential appointments, not for months or years of screwing around.

Thomas L. Knapp (Twitter: @thomaslknapp) is director and senior news analyst at the William Lloyd Garrison Center for Libertarian Advocacy Journalism (thegarrisoncenter.org). He lives and works in north central Florida.


Slow News Days and Third Party Politics: Attack of the Goat-Sacrificing Roman Sun God!

RGBStock.com Vote Pencil

American media seldom pay much attention to “third” political parties like the Libertarians and the Greens. They get footnotes in normal election coverage, with one exception: Sometimes someone weird shows up on a slow news day. Then it’s suddenly time to cover third parties.

Enter Augustus Sol Invictus, a declared candidate for US Senate from Florida, who plans to run on the Libertarian Party’s ballot line. You may have seen his name in your social media or news feed. He’s “trending.”

Invictus named himself after an ancient Roman sun god. He allegedly sacrificed a goat in the western desert somewhere. As an attorney, he’s defended white supremacist clients and some people believe that’s no coincidence. He’s supposedly called for civil war, mandatory eugenics programs and all kinds of other crazy, and definitely not Libertarian, stuff.  [Disclosure: I am a Libertarian candidate for Congress from Florida too; I have never sacrificed a goat, don’t associate with white supremacists, and support neither civil war nor eugenics]

The Libertarian Party of Florida’s executive committee censured Invictus  and disassociated their party from him on Sunday. His views, they say, are not theirs — which should be obvious, but some things do have to be explicitly said, not just assumed.

And yet, there’s actually a possibility that he’ll show up on Florida primary ballots as a candidate for the Libertarian US Senate nomination. If so, and if he wins, the Florida LP is stuck with him as their standard-bearer.

It shouldn’t be that way. And at one time it wasn’t.

Until the late 19th century, American government didn’t print ballots, nor did it control the internal affairs of political parties.  Voters cast ballots printed and provided by their parties of choice, or hand-wrote (or, if they couldn’t write, verbally swore to an election official) their ballots.

Starting in the 1880s, the states adopted the “Australian ballot.” Because government printed these ballots, government got to choose which candidates appeared on them. From that, a system of rules evolved which incorporated two express purposes: Keeping “third parties” off ballots with restrictive access laws, and robbing them of the ability to choose their own candidates, if they did manage to wangle ballot access, by forcing them into primary elections instead of nominations by convention.

All of this came about in the name of “reform,” to “take political decisions out of the smoke-filled rooms.” But that’s where the decisions are still made by the Democrats and Republicans. These restrictive laws don’t affect them nearly as much. Their party establishments are large, entrenched and powerful; they’re usually able to direct the voters instead of vice versa. It’s the third parties who get stuck with the weirdos. And with the media coverage that the weirdos bring.

A major step in real political reform would be to ditch the “Australian ballot” and its associated restrictions, returning to freedom of association for voters, candidates and political parties.

Florida’s Libertarians should be free to bury Caesar, rather than potentially forced to seemingly praise him.

Thomas L. Knapp is director and senior news analyst at the William Lloyd Garrison Center for Libertarian Advocacy Journalism (thegarrisoncenter.org). He lives and works in north central Florida.