|Senator Jeffords & the Bush Supreme Court|
Even in the 50-50 Senate, President Bush's Supreme Court nominees, who ever they may be, faced tough confirmation battles. Once Sen. James Jeffords of Vermont officially handed the Democratic Party a 50-49 Senate majority, those battles became wars. Why?
Before they can even be considered and voted on by the full Senate, Supreme Court nominees must first be approved by the powerful Senate Judiciary Committee, a body comprised of 18 members evenly divided 9-9 between Republicans and Democrats.
While the full Senate was divided 50-50 -- while Sen. Jeffords was still a Republican -- the Senate, in an effort to encourage bipartisan cooperation, created a special rule to deal with tie votes in committees. Under the "50-50 rule," the Senate Majority Leader could force a deadlocked nomination or bill out of committee and order it considered by the full Senate. Vice President Cheney's tie-breaker vote gave the Republicans a "nominal" majority which made Republican Sen. Trent Lott the Majority Leader. Should a Bush nominee come up against a tie vote in the committee, Lott could have simply invoked the 50-50 rule bringing the nomination before the full Senate.
Now, Sen. Jeffords is no longer a Republican, the Democrats hold a true 50-49 majority, a Democrat, Sen. Tom Daschle will be the Majority Leader and the 50-50 rule is out. Nominations and bills can once again be held until dead, so to speak, in committee.
Under the committee process, a Supreme Court nominee might be able to get 50 or more votes from the full Senate, but unless that nominee can first get at least 10 votes in the Judiciary Committee, it's back to the day job.
President Bush's nominees will now have to get at least one vote from a Democrat on the Senate Judiciary Committee before they can even be considered by the full Senate. This means President Bush must now give serious consideration to choosing more politically moderate nominees to fill future Supreme Court vacancies than he might have considered before Sen. Jeffords went independent.
During the campaign, President Bush stated that he planned to appoint Supreme Court Justices "in the mold of" Justices Scalia and Thomas. With the departure of Sen. Jeffords from the GOP, that mold may have been broken.
The White House Steps
The Senate is now under a Democratic majority for the first time since 1994 and even greater challenges are ahead for Bush Administration. Let the News/Issues Guides keep you posted.