Monday, December 12, 2005

Byrd Warns Frist Against 'Nuclear Option'


Sen. Robert Byrd of West Virginia said Monday he doesn't expect Democrats to
filibuster the nomination of Supreme Court nominee Samuel Alito, but he still
chastised Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist for threatening to stop any such
effort through a drastic parliamentary effort that has been dubbed the "nuclear

"If he ever tries to exercise that, he's going to see a real filibuster if
I'm living and able to stand on my feet or sit in my seat," Byrd said in a
Senate debate with Frist, R-Tenn.

"If the senator wants a fight, let him try it," said Byrd, the Senate's
senior Democrat. "I'm 88 years old, but I can still fight, and fight I will for
freedom of speech. I haven't been here for 47 years to see that freedom of
speech whittled away and undermined. "

The animated exchange, springing from the majority leader's threat on Sunday
to block judicial filibusters, featured Frist waving his hands and wiping his
brow in exasperation.

Byrd insisted that Democrats have not threatened to filibuster Alito, who was
chosen by President Bush as the replacement for retiring Justice Sandra Day
O'Connor. In response, Frist read from a half-dozen news stories that quoted
Democrats mentioning the option, looking back at Byrd after each item.

"I will do everything I possibly can if your side chooses, if the Democrat
side chooses to filibuster," Frist said.

Senate Democrats have questioned whether Alito, a federal appeals court
judge, has the proper judicial temperament and ideology to replace O'Connor.
Some have said Alito's views on issues such as voting rights and abortion could
provoke a filibuster unless he allays their concerns about his commitment to
civil rights at his confirmation hearings, beginning Jan. 9.

The filibuster is a parliamentary tactic whereby senators use their right to
virtually unlimited debate to block measures, legislation or nominations. It
takes 60 votes in the 100-member Senate to stop a filibuster.

Under Frist's scenario, the GOP would seek a parliamentary ruling that
declares filibusters are not permitted against judicial nominees. That ruling
ultimately would go before the full Senate for a vote, with a simple majority
required to prevail. Republicans hold 55 seats.

Democrats like Byrd have threatened to retaliate with a fight that could
snarl Senate business for months.

With the Senate back in town, Progress for America, a conservative advocacy
group, launched a new television ad supporting Alito in Washington, D.C., Maine,
Rhode Island and Nebraska. It will run for four days on cable stations, costs
$150,000 and features two former Alito clerks praising the judge.

The Fraternal Order of Police announced Monday that it will support Alito's
nomination. "We believe that he will be an outstanding addition to the Supreme
Court," said FOP President Chuck Canterbury.

And the National Association of Manufacturers was expected to endorse Alito
on Tuesday.

Several gay and lesbian rights groups announced their opposition to Alito's
confirmation Monday. They include the Human Rights Campaign, National Gay and
Lesbian Task Force, Lambda Legal, National Center for Lesbian Rights, and
Parents, Families and Friends of Lesbians and Gays.

Disability rights groups planned to announce their opposition to Alito on
Wednesday. They include ADA Watch/National Coalition for Disability Rights,
Alliance of Disability Advocates, Bazelon Center for Mental Health Law,
Disability Rights Education and Defense Fund, National Council on Independent
Living and World Association of People with Disabilities.

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