President Bush has sent the U.S. Senate the names of men and women he'd like to appoint as federal judges. And Republican senators have tried and tried to get a vote, yea or nay -- or "up or down" as they like to say -- on all of them. By comfortably winning re-election, the Republicans say, the president earned the right to put his choices on the federal bench.
But Democratic Party leaders say the president is trying to skew judicial decisions by packing the courts with conservatives. So they talk and talk and talk on the Senate floor to stall votes on the nominees.
It's called "filibustering," and it takes at least 60% of members to stop this delaying tactic and force a vote. The majority Republicans run the show in the Senate, but not by 60%.
"Filibuster" is a Dutch term from the days when filibusters were pirates capturing ships on the high seas. Now the word describes holding a bill, or a nomination, hostage -- even if it means reading recipes or names from the telephone book for hours on end to block a vote. The gifted orator Huey Long was a master filibusterer in the 1930s. So was fellow southerner Strom Thurmond. He set a record by rambling on for 24 hours straight in 1957.
Classic movie lovers remember the film Mr. Smith Goes to Washington, in which Jimmy Stewart filibusters passionately before collapsing. "You all think I'm licked!" the exhausted Senator Smith croaked in the film. "Well I'm not licked. And I'm going to stay right here and fight for this lost cause . . . Somebody will listen to me. So . . . ." And he collapses as screams fill the Senate chamber.
Should we set out to further explore the long and colorful history of filibustering, we'd no doubt hear the rapping of a gavel and the words, "There will be no filibustering here, sir!"
The president must wish it were that easy!