Let’s say my editor tells me I must seek readers’ advice before I write this column. So, under duress, I
ask for your advice. You provide it. I thank you. Then I proceed to write the column I had intended all along.
The boss said to seek, not take, advice.
That brings me to the U.S. Supreme Court vacancy, a matter on which the Constitution requires the president to seek the advice of the U.S. Senate. I have U.S. Sen. Mark Pryor on the record from barely a month ago saying he believes that the Gang of 14, in which he is instrumental, will stick together even if President Bush seeks to wreck it.
I have Pryor on record two days ago saying he still thinks that, but with a new qualifier.
“I may be naive,” he said.
This Gang of 14, so called, is a coalition of seven centrist Republicans and seven centrist Democrats. That’s just enough from each side of the aisle to stymie action either way. It was formed to forge a compromise to avoid total Senate dysfunction over the use of filibusters to block judicial nominees.
These centrists agreed that the option to impose filibusters on judicial nominees would be preserved. In exchange, they agreed that three pending Bush nominees to federal judgeships whom Democrats found
offensive would be confirmed. They agreed that no filibuster of any judicial nominee would occur unless an “extraordinary circumstance” arose. They agreed to trust each other.
Now Bush confronts the pleasure of nominating a Supreme Court justice to replace retiring Sandra Day
O’Connor, frequently decisive in 5-to-4 votes on the most emotional and culturally divisive issues of our day. He stands a chance to implant the right-wing agenda in the one branch that has resisted it, conceivably for a generation.
Many people think that Bush must and will oblige Christian conservatives, disregard centrists and inflame liberals. They think he will do that by nominating someone with transparent and strong views against abortion. They think the Gang of 14 of which Pryor is a key member will then crumble.
By this thinking, some Republicans in the centrist bloc will run to Bush and some Democrats will run to
their base. Then we’ll be right back where we started, with the Democrats imposing a filibuster with 41 votes
while the Republicans gear up to cast 51 votes for a rule change disallowing a filibuster on judicial
nominations. After that, Democrats might discontinue all procedural courtesies, conceivably shutting down
the Senate except for basic appropriation bills.
Pryor told me at the end of May that the Gang of 14 had discussed every conceivable option by which it
might be attacked. But he acknowledged two days ago that only Bush controls this destiny.
The most important part of the Gang of 14’s compromise, Pryor said, was insisted on by the coalition’s veteran traditionalists — Democrat Robert Byrd of West Virginia and Republican John Warner of Virginia. It was that the president follow the letter and spirit of the “advice and consent” clause of the Constitution and seek not only Senate confirmation of nominees, but advice as well. It called on Bush to “consult” with Senate leaders in the course of deciding whom to nominate.
Pryor said he takes that to mean Bush should meet with Republican and Democratic leaders of the Senate as well as members of the Senate Judiciary Committee, then send up a name all the aforementioned found acceptable. The Gang of 14 doesn’t want to assert any special authority for itself, Pryor said. “All along, we hoped the usual process would work,” he said. But Bush might choose to seek all that prescribed advice, then simply not take any that he didn’t think his Christian conservative base would appreciate. He might choose merely to “consult” by whispering the name of his right-wing nominee to a gleeful Rick Santorum and Trent Lott. That is to say Pryor might turn out right ... about being naive.