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Calvin Professor Watches Senate Filibuster
May 18, 2005

One interested observer of the possible filibuster in the U.S. Senate is Calvin College political science professor Doug Koopman.

An Associated Press story today says that Senate Republicans on May 17 picked Texas judge Priscilla Owen "to be the flashpoint of a historic battle over the powers of the White House and minority parties in the Senate to shape the federal judiciary, with the vote expected to occur next week."

A small group of moderate senators, said the AP, is working on a compromise to head off what's been dubbed the ''nuclear option'' because of its potential for escalating parliamentary warfare between Democrats and Republicans.

Koopman says that a test vote on Owen's nomination to the 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in New Orleans was expected early next week, and if that vote is not successful, then Senate majority leader Bill Frist plans to call a vote on banning judicial filibusters.

Koopman worked in Washington for 15 years, including a stint on a joint House-Senate committee under its chairman, Senator Bill Roth, a Delaware Republican.

He says the upcoming days in D.C. will make for interesting political theater. But when all is said and done he imagines not too much will change.

"I think the Senate will look over the precipice," he says, "and then decide not to end the potential for judicial filibusters. In other words they will keep the status quo."

Koopman says he expects the first Senate vote to alter the filibuster will narrowly pass. That could be followed by a motion to reconsider the vote, and a last-minute deal to vote on more or all the President's stalled nominees.

But, Koopman adds, while the status quo might remain this latest set-to does indicate changes in Washington.

And not, he says, changes for the better.

"The decline in comity of the Congress, both House and Senate," he says, "is troubling. First there is the decision by the Senate's minority party, the Democrats, to block so many federal appeals court nominations. The origins of this dispute are significant. But also significant is the majority party's contemplation of this response, to limit filibusters on federal court nominations. It's not a good week for either side."

Koopman says the topic is pertinent for Michigan which is part of the Sixth Federal Circuit (Appeals) Court headquartered in Cincinnati. There are four Bush nominations in this one Circuit (composed of federal courts in Michigan, Ohio, Kentucky, and Tennessee) caught up in this controversy he says.