Barbara L Boxer

The Filibuster Issue - April 25, 2005

Barbara L Boxer
April 25, 2005— U.S. Senate, Washington, DC
Congressional floor speech
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I want to talk about an issue I know you've been very involved with, and that's the filibuster issue. And I feel that, as someone who once wanted to end the filibuster myself at an early stage, I really now understand how foolish I was at that point.

Why did I want to end it When I first came here as a freshman? Because we had the majority and the Republicans were thwarting us, and it was very frustrating, and we wanted to fix everything, and I voted to say, "This filibuster has to go." Little did I realize that that's the way the Senate is supposed to operate, "In a deliberative fashion," as one of the founders said. The House is the cup -- if gets hot, it's steamy. And when the issues get to the Senate, it's the saucer; they cool down. And one of the ways to ensure that is to have an extended debate.

There's been so much misinformation on the filibuster. I want to make sure that I put my thoughts into the record on it. You hear Republican senators actually get up and say that they never filibustered any judges. And I was stunned, so I went to my staff and we went back into history -- and maybe we have a chart that shows that. Matthew, can you help us get the chart here?

Guess what? The first filibuster in modern times was started by the Republicans in 1968 against Abe Fortas for the Supreme Court. And we know that there have been eleven in recent times; eleven filibusters.

Now, here's one in 1971, probably started by the Democrats. William Rehnquist to be a Supreme Court Justice.

Here's one in 1980, probably started by the Republicans. Stephen Breyer to be a judge on the First Circuit Court of Appeals.

Then you have 1984, Harvey Wilkinson, Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals.

1986, Sydney Fitzwater to be judge for the Northern District of Texas.

In 1992, Edward Earl Carnes to be judge on the 11th Circuit.

1994, Lee Sarokin, ton judge on the Third Circuit.

Brian Theodore Stewart to be a judge for the ---- of Utah.

And here's this -- in the year 2000, two that I know about, because they're from my state. And the Republicans launched a major filibuster against these two people. And we beat it. We beat the filibuster. We fought hard and we got the votes needed; Richard Paez to be judge on the Ninth Circuit and Marcia Berzon to be a judge on the Ninth Circuit.

Now, I want to prove to you -- when you hear Republicans saying that they never did launch a filibuster, you just tell them, "Huh? What?" Because here is Bob Smith who led the filibuster, a Republican from New Hampshire. Here's what he said, folks, "It is no secret that I have been the person who has filibustered these two nominations of Judge Berzon and Judge Paez." Here he is again, "Don't tell me we haven't filibustered judges and that we don't have the right to filibuster judges on the floor of the Senate. Of course we do. That's our Constitutional role."

So here's a Republican senator who started a filibuster against two judge nominees for the Ninth Circuit. He called this his Constitutional role. And now we have other Republicans saying, the Constitutional option is no filibuster. Wrong. You're contradicting your own people here.

Now, Orrin Hatch himself admitted there were filibusters on the floor. He said, "Indeed, I must confess to being somewhat baffled that after a filibuster is cut off the Senate could still delay a final vote." That's Orrin Hatch. So here's the point. This is the major point I want to make. Who's the real leader that's out there pushing to end the filibuster on judges -- pushing, pushing, pushing. And by the way, it's unbelievable to me. We have confirmed 205 of George W. Bush's nominees to the courts. we have stopped ten. Okay, let me say it again: 205 have gotten through and we have stopped 10.

Now, do the math, and I will say to you: in your life, if you get 95% of what you want, wouldn't you go around with a smile on your face? I would. If I got 95% of what I want from the Senate, I'd be so happy. If I got 95% of what I wanted from my family, if they saw it my way 95% of the time, I'd be happy. Especially when they were teenagers. I'd be really happy. But, you know what? If I was arrogant and I wanted everything and I thought I knew best all the time and I wanted to grab all the power, I would be sulking.

So these folks over here, who got 95% of what they want -- 205 judges and then ten that we thought were out of the mainstream -- and, by the way, wow, are they out of the mainstream? They are unhappy, and now they're going to change the rules in the middle of the game.

For 200 years of our Constitution, we have been able to speak and express ourselves. And I've got to tell you, this is dangerous to our democracy when one party wants it all. When one party wants to stop minority rights, that is dangerous, and that's where we're at.

But here's the -- best of all. And I hope people will know this. When we had this filibuster on Marcia Berzon, and when we had this filibuster of Richard Paez, guess who voted to keep the filibuster going on Richard Paez? I'll give you a clue: he appeared on a big screen over the weekend. I'll give you another clue: he was elected by the Republicans to be the majority leader of the Senate. Bill Frist.

He says, filibusters are terrible, filibusters are wrong, and yet he voted to continue the filibuster on Richard Paez. And I'd ask unanimous consent that that vote be placed in the record of Richard Paez -- that vote to cut off the filibuster, if I might. Thank you.

So let's really hold people accountable for what they do and say. I admit I was foolish on the filibuster when I was a freshman, and I came in here and I also wanted everything to go my way; I was wrong. And it's hard for a senator to say they're wrong. I mean, they don't like to admit it. But-- I admit it, but I was wrong. But how can Bill Frist lead the charge, say that filibusters are wrong? It's terrible, it's awful, it's against the Constitution and everything else he says, which I don't agree with any of what he said. And then not address the fact that he voted to sustain a filibuster? It just doesn't make sense.

You know, we've got soldiers dying in Iraq, in Afghanistan. Lord knows where they're going to go in this very dangerous world and the mission to make sure democracy thrives. Do you know that when I was in Iraq we were told one of the reasons that the minority there, the minority groups there, the Kurds, felt comfortable was that they knew they were going to copy the model of this democracy, including the filibuster. They said, we know we're going to have our rights heard, because we're going to have the right to filibuster. They even told that to a Republican senator who went over there.

By the way, when I was in the Palestinian territories -- this is another interesting part of my trip -- the first thing the Palestinians said they want do is make sure their people get a monthly Social Security benefit that's guaranteed. And I truly wanted to ask the minister there, who I think he was the Minister of the Interior, to please contact President Bush and tell him that a guaranteed Social Security benefit was their first priority, as the President tries to undo the guaranteed benefit for Social Security.

I mean, that trip that I went on was fascinating in so many different ways. But mostly what I realized is, we need to be the model of freedom and democracy, and if we start taking away minority rights, if we start saying, we can't stand to hear each other -- and, by the way, I understand it. I know it's painful for some of my colleagues to hear me speak who don't agree with me. They say, "Oh, I can't listen to one more word." And I feel the same way when they start talking about things that I just fundamentally disagree on. But that's what it's about here. Because all of America has to be represented here, from the most liberal to the most conservative to everything in between. All of us have to feel represented. But if we stop the ability of the other to debate and discuss, especially on judges, where it's a lifetime appointment at a very high salary -- they never have to face the electorate, this is the only moment.

So what if we say that they have to meet a higher bar. That's a good thing on behalf of the people. Because, guess what? You know what they rule on? They rule on everything to do with your life. They rule on whether there should be child labor. They rule on whether you should be harassed and exploited in the workplace. They rule on whether you have the right to clean air and safe drinking water. They rule on everybody's rights; voting rights, civil rights, human rights, they rule on whether your child can get a good education. They rule on whether corporate America must provide a safe workplace for them. They rule on whether the federal government can say that people who pollute have to clean up that pollution.

And why do you think there are so many people that want to get every single judge? Because they want judges of a certain philosophy. That's wrong. We should work for mainstream, fair judges --that's what we need on the bench -- that can see all sides. But when one side wants everything, when 95% isn't enough, when 205-10 isn't good enough, beware of what is coming down.

Do not change the rules in the middle of the game. That is not fair. That is not right. It is throwing a fit over something when you've gotten 95% of what you want. You don't change the rules in the middle of the game, like they did at the House on the Ethics Committee. Don't do that. That's not right and it's not fair. And it's wrong. it's wrong for the American people.

Everyone in the world looks to America. Everyone in the world. And when we start weakening our rules around here and weakening the rights of people to exercise the rights they've been given as a United States Senator, we're in a lot of trouble.

So, Mr. President, I've gone through a number of issues starting off with the most solemn, which is reading the names of those in the military who have died who were either from California or based in California. And I promised my constituents that I would always come to the floor periodically to remember them. And the saddest thing, 26% of the dead soldiers happen to be either from California or based in California. That is a huge number. so it is with a very heavy heart that I did that.

We have a lot to do, a lot on our agenda. I just hope we will stay focused on the things that matter to the people. Let's not spend time changing the rules of the Senate that we've had for so many years. Let's not do that. Let's do the work. Let's get a success strategy for Iraq. Let's get health care for our people. Let's get education for our children. Let's make sure that the air is clean and the water is safe; that we protect our beautiful places. Let's make sure that we attack this issue of gas prices, which in my state we're seeing $3 a barrel. And I wrote to the FTC and I said, please investigate what is going on with the refiners. Please look at these mergers that are coming at us now that will make it even worse. We have work to do.

But, no, we have to have our leader go on a Sunday, or whatever, and address a group about changing the rules of the filibuster. This does not meet the test, it seems to me, of doing the job. Because we know there'll be fallout.

We know that's the nuclear option. And nuclear explosions have fallout. It doesn't mean shutting down the Senate, I can assure you. It's going to mean working harder in the Senate. Working really hard. Working on some things that, you know, maybe we haven't worked on in a while.

Forcing that. But I've got to tell you 205-10; you should be smiling, not frowning. Not addressing people and saying how terrible you're doing. You should be happy. It's a heck of a lot better than a lot of Democratic Presidents have done. Should be happy. You should bring us judges that are mainstream and there wouldn't be any filibusters.

I've supported so many. You succeed 205 times. You failed 10 times because you tried to put people on there who really were so far out of the mainstream it would be dangerous. So can't we compromise this thing and come together? Let's get back to work.

Thank you very much, Mr. President.

151 Congr. Rec. S4219. (2005).