“Nominees should only be filibustered under extraordinary circumstances, and each signatory must use his or her own discretion and judgment in determining whether such circumstances exist.”
MEMORANDUM OF UNDERSTANDING ON JUDICIAL NOMINATIONS–The Gang of Fourteen (14) also known as “The Mod(erate) Squad”
The nomination of Samuel Alito to the Supreme Court has, whether we recognize it or not, driven America to the brink. Alito crystallizes a constellation of crises enveloping constitutional democracy as we have known it in America. The political ramifications of the Alito nomination are Byzantine. They are set out below.
In spite of the fact that the First Amendment enshrines the freedom of speech in a pre-eminent position in our constitution, members of the Senate have taken the extraordinary step of curtailing their own rights to free speech. Majority Leader Bill Frist, a putative presidential candidate in 2008, has even threatened to launch what he and others call the “Nuclear Option,” to outlaw the use of the filibuster.
In spite of Frist’s dire threat, there is already a mechanism in place to curtail filibusters. Sixty senators can vote for cloture to end a filibuster. That Bill Frist is willing to discard this parliamentary and congressional tradition suggests that he has little respect for freedom of speech–even among his colleagues in the Senate.
Frist’s threat to nuke the filibuster led to a temporary compromise that has taken an astonishing form. Calling themselves “The Mod(erate) Squad” or “The Gang of Fourteen (14)” a self-appointed group of seven Republicans and seven Democrats coalesced around the idea of limiting the freedom of speech and cutting off debate in the senate. They committed themselves to the virtual elimination of the filibuster specifically in cases involving judicial nominations.
The Gang of 14 rationalize their collaboration to curtail free speech and debate in the Senate as their attempt to avoid Bill Frist’s Nuclear Option and his stated ambition of bringing about the ultimate end of the filibuster in American political life–until there is, once again, a majority of Senators who would support its reincarnation.
Today, these fourteen Senators may hold the power to confirm or deny Samuel Alito’s rise to the Supreme Court. If they do not permit a filibuster to unfold against Alito, they will participate in the destruction of freedom of speech in Congress. Likewise, if Bill Frist deploys the “Nuclear Option” he will be indelibly branded as the greatest enemy of the freedom of speech in American history. The stakes are high.
To date, the Gang of 14 have been involved in the nomination of five judges to the federal bench. Three have been approved by narrow margins, and two remain unconfirmed. These two unconfirmed nominees, William Myers and Henry Saad, are deemed to meet the necessary qualification of “extraordinary circumstances,” to permit a filibuster–so radical are their agendas.
I believe that Samuel Alito meets the criteria for extraordinary circumstances as well. During his interrogation by the Judiciary Committee last week, Alito was uninformative, disingenuous, reticent and furtive in many of his responses to questions on a host of issues that strike at the heart of constitutional democracy in America.
Alito belonged to an organization dedicated to the exclusion of women and minorities from Princeton University. Alito opposes Roe versus Wade, and he has proposed robust legal strategies to strike it down. Alito opposes the principal of one person, one vote, and he has investigated constitutional means of gerrymandering, redistricting and voter suppression. Alito supports dangerously new levels of presidential power for the Chief Executive and his leading law enforcement officials that would deny American citizens their civil rights to privacy in their communications, an integral right that has been identified in the First, Fourth and Fifth amendments to the Constitution.
It must be stated that judge Alito’s preference for escalating levels of presidential power taken in conjunction with his well-established penchant for siding with corporations and state governments against private citizens is alarming.
Alito represents the very real threat of a virulent and reactionary reconstitution of American culture. Alito’s crusade for the expansion of the powers of the state and the presidency, and his parallel campaign to curtail the civil rights of Americans, especially women and minorities, reveals the mind of a man driven by a controlling ideology.
Alito stands starkly before America today as a radical. He represents the direct threat of theocratic authoritarianism to bring an end to constitutional democracy, the kind of democratic process that has been the unmistakable hallmark of American greatness since 1776.
Far stronger terms could be used to define Alito, but they are not necessary. Samuel Alito is quite simply Un-American both in his overwhelming devotion to increasing the powers of higher authorities and in his professional incapacity to preserve individual rights when they conflict with the powers of the state.
Alito would relieve the presidency of its responsibilities and rules to protect and defend the constitution as we have known it. Alito would transform the President into an epauletted Commander-in-Chief who would be in sole command of national security while consigning constitutional rights, civil rights, human rights and equal rights to the rubbish bin of American history.
Today. America is teetering on the brink of an abyss. Constitutional democracy and the free, open and tolerant society it has fostered are America’s terra firma, while–with the Alito nomination–the abyss of totalitarianism opens its jaws to radicalism, reaction and religious supremacy over the state and its Constitution.
Today, the senate is behaving like a victim of vertigo, staggering and losing its balance on the knife-edge of American history.
MICHAEL CARMICHAEL lives in Oxford, England. He can be reached at: firstname.lastname@example.org