November 3, 2005
The Return of the Nuclear Option
Did it ever go away(?) ... but for the sake of this post let's review what the nuclear option is.
It's Frist's plan to change the Standing Rules of the Senate in order to prohibit Democrats from using the filibuster to block votes on Bush's judicial nominees. Under the current rules, senators in the minority can indefinitely delay a floor vote on judges -- or on just about anything else, for that matter -- by engaging in extended debate.
The Senate's rules have allowed unlimited debate, or filibusters, since 1806, when senators dropped a rule that allowed a majority of the Senate to put an end to discussion and call for a vote. For the next 111 years, there was no way to stop a filibuster once it had started. But in 1917, when filibusters were blocking Woodrow Wilson's plans for World War I, the Senate adopted Rule XXII, which allowed senators to end a filibuster by a two-thirds vote on a motion to cut off debate -- a procedure called "cloture." In 1975, the Senate amended Rule XXII so that cloture required, in most cases, the vote of not two-thirds but rather three-fifths of the senators. In today's 50-state, 100-member Senate, that means it takes 60 rather than 67 senators to put an end to most filibusters.
With the nuclear option, Frist and his supporters would effectively change that rule so that filibusters on judicial nominees could be cut off by a simple majority vote.
Source: Tim Grieve, Everything You Wanted to Know about the "Nuclear Option" Salon (May 12, 2005)(excellent backgrounder)
See also The Nuclear Option (Wikipedia) | The Nuclear Option: A Resource Guide (Center for American Progress)
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