Commentary Magazine


A Filibuster That Goes Around Comes Around

I never cease to be amazed at the shameless hypocrisy of politicians. They will, with the utmost sincerity say one day that X is Y and only a fool or a knave would deny it. And the next day say, with equal sincerity, that X is not Y and never can be and only a fool or a knave would deny it.

Consider Barbara Boxer, Senator from California (a title you’d be well advised not to forget if you happen to be testifying before her). If there is a Democratic president, then Senator Boxer thinks filibustering a judicial nominee is abhorrent, a perversion of constitutional principles, etc., etc. In 1998, with Clinton in the White House, she said on the floor of the Senate, “Mr. President, I am very glad that we are moving forward with judges today. We all hear, as we are growing up, that, ‘Justice delayed is justice denied,’ and we have, in many of our courts, vacancies that have gone on for a year, two years, and in many cases it is getting to the crisis level. So I am pleased that we will be voting. I think, whether the delays are on the Republican side or the Democratic side, let these names come up, let us have debate, let us vote.”

Fast forward to 2003, when Miguel Estrada had been nominated by President Bush to a seat on the District of Columbia Circuit Court of Appeals. Senator Boxer said then that the filibuster protected the Senate’s ability to stop radical appointments. “The president should reread the Constitution and understand that the power to appoint judges is a shared power between the Senate and the president.” She voted to filibuster Miguel Estrada, the first time an appeals court nominee had ever been filibustered. Indeed, Senator Barbara Let-Us-Debate-Let-Us-Vote Boxer filibustered all ten Bush nominations to circuit courts of appeal in the years 2003-2005.

Now it’s 2011 and a Democrat is in the White House and nominated Goodwin Liu to the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals. Suddenly the filibuster is once again an outrage against American democracy and sense of fair play. In a remarkably ill-tempered speech on the Senate floor she lectured Republicans that Democrats would not forget. ”This is not going to go down easily,” said Senator Boxer. “I think the ramifications of this filibuster are going to be long and difficult for those who caused this good man to be filibustered.”

Miguel Estrada is also a good man and a brilliant legal mind, Senator. What goes around comes around. And in the United States Senate that goes double.