Dear Sens. Barrasso and Enzi,
It has been widely reported that the Democrats have acquired the necessary votes to filibuster the appointment of Neil Gorsuch to the Supreme Court. Considering recent comments from Sens. Mitch McConnell and Chuck Grassley, among others, it seems clear the Republicans plan on using the so-called “nuclear option” to eliminate the possibility of a filibuster in Supreme Court appointment proceedings.
I am writing to implore you to oppose using the nuclear option.
Our country is experiencing a seemingly unprecedented level of partisanship. It is as if the city folk and the rest of us live in different worlds. And, our representatives are embodying that partisan polarity in the halls of power by refusing to work together, refusing to compromise, and refusing to even acknowledge the legitimacy of the opposing side’s perspective. The whole point of the government’s structure, from the electoral college to the checks and balances, is to inhibit the tyranny of the majority. With tyranny inhibited, the opposing parties are forced to share a table, listen to each other, compromise and move forward together. In recent decades, these structures have been eroding, and our country is suffering.
In 2013 the Democrats used the nuclear option to defeat Republican filibusters of lower court nominations. Back then Sen. McConnell asserted it was “a sad day in the history of the Senate” and argued that the move was a “power grab.” Similarly, Sen. Lamar Alexander said, “It’s another raw exercise of political power to permit the majority to do anything it wants whenever it wants to do it.” And, Sen. Richard Shelby noted you “won’t be in power in perpetuity. This is a mistake — a big one for the long run. Maybe not for the short run. Short-term gains, but I think it changes the Senate tremendously in a bad way.”
Please, listen to these eminently reasonable Republican voices. It is true of course that Democrats used the nuclear option first and that Democrats forced through major social legislation without a single Republican vote. Don’t use that as an excuse for eroding the structure and traditions of the Senate. Be the bigger men. Take the moral high ground. Consider the long-term good: the good of people who disagree coming to together, in compromise, to address their common concerns.
The supreme court ought to be above such sophomoric bickering. Allowing simple majorities such expansive power will simply encourage further polarization and contribute to our eroding trust in the government. If there is anything that ought to force us to the table to talk to each other and hear each other out, is it not the fate of the highest court in the land?
In fact, why don’t you go one step further? I encourage you both to support revising the Senate rules to return the power of the filibuster to the minority party even in lower court nominations. Restore the minority voice. Giving the minority its filibuster back would be an enormous step towards reconciliation and would structurally encourage greater discourse and compromise — something our nation deeply needs.
Laramie resident J.W. Pritchett is a PhD candidate in Theological Ethics at the University of Aberdeen, Scotland. He is deeply troubled by the state of polarization in our national government.