A last-minute agreement was finally reached in the Senate this past week that ended, or at least postponed, the conflict over judicial filibusters. While the agreement, negotiated by a bipartisan group of 14 moderates, does sidestep the so-called “nuclear option,” it is a far cry from a true compromise. The Republicans agreed not to eliminate the judicial filibuster, provided the Democrats consented to only filibuster judicial nominees in “extraordinary circumstances” and specifically allowed three ultra-conservative nominees to be subjected to an up-or-down vote. Democrats have sacrificed too much in what has been touted as a balanced compromise — in exchange for Republicans leaving the filibuster intact, Democrats agreed to virtually never use it.

And, more worryingly, by consenting to three of the current nominees Democrats set a frightening standard for the level of extremism it would take for them to filibuster a nominee.

Senate Democrats have opposed less than 5 percent of Bush’s nominees, singling out only those who have repeatedly proven themselves unlikely to separate their ultra-conservative personal beliefs from their rulings. One judicial nominee, Texas Supreme Court justice Priscilla Owen, has a reputation of favoring corporations over consumers and individual workers, attempting to rewrite the law to reflect her own beliefs and taking strong stances against gay rights. In the aftermath of the agreement, the Senate confirmed her last Thursday. William Pryor, another highly controversial nominee, has coupled his extreme conservative ideology with his federalist beliefs — he has strongly opposed measures to protect battered women and supported those who would criminalize homosexual behavior. The infiltration of these extremists into the federal judicial system could be devastating to the judicial check on the legislative and executive branches of government.

The vague wording that characterizes the agreement is the most concerning aspect of the deal; the negotiating senators offered no interpretation of what constitutes the “extraordinary circumstances” necessary to permit a filibuster. The nominees in question are so extreme that it is difficult to imagine any future candidates who could be any more “extraordinary.” Those involved in the negotiations could not promise that the nuclear option would be permanently set aside; what Republicans view to be an inappropriate interpretation of the highly subjective agreement could trigger a renege on the compromise. The right to filibuster judicial nominees is crucial to ensuring that judicial candidates are not merely puppets of party politics. The terms of the agreement will do little to ensure any sort of bipartisan collaboration, and the stakes will only rise should a Supreme Court vacancy open in the coming months.

The supposed unity promised by the agreement has already proved to be short-lived; the delay of John Bolton’s confirmation vote for U.N. ambassador by wary Democrats is just the first of many disputes which are quickly unraveling any truce established through the filibuster compromise. The end of the judicial filibuster would have chipped away at the Senate’s ability to act as a moderating body, but the agreement, heavily favoring Republicans, is only slightly better. Democrats have severely erred in letting what is in essence a cloaked version of the “nuclear option,” disguised in vague wording and the appearance of equal compromise, slip under the radar.

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