Thursday, May 05, 2005

The State of My Discontent

Meanwhile, now that I have expressed my Marxist sympathies, I am sure that my recent letter-writing exchange with Sen. George Allen (R-VA) is going to go over even better inside his office. But here goes. About two weeks ago, I wrote e-mails to Sen. Allen as well as Sen. John Warner, the other Republican senator from my home state of Virginia (still my official residence, since I have that option as a graduate student, and Virginia elections are always in more dire need of Democratic votes than New York elections are). The point was to voice my objections to the recent "nuclear option" proposal that would outlaw Senate filibusters in response to federal judicial nominees, and basically allow a simple majority of sitting Senators to dismiss existing Constitutional protections and vote in whatever candidate they want. You can all see where that one's going, right?

Sen. Warner, the more moderate of our two GOP Senators (and a former husband of Liz Taylor, dont'cha know), has been publicly described as "on the fence" about this measure. So, it's a little disappointing that I didn't hear back from his office at all, but I hope he's gonna do the right thing. By contrast, I at least give Sen. Allen's office credit for replying, though in a predictably uninspiring fashion:

Dear Nicholas:

Thank you for contacting me regarding proposals to change the
filibuster rule in the Senate. I appreciate your concerns and value the
opportunity to respond.

The United States Senate has a very important function of confirming
Presidential appointments, particularly to the federal bench. Any
qualified individual nominated for a seat on a federal court should get a
full and fair hearing both in the Senate Judiciary Committee and on the
floor of the Senate. I believe that a vigorous debate about judicial
nominees is appropriate, but the blatant obstruction of a judicial
appointment is both unfair to the nominee and unfair to the process. It is
the role of the Senate to advise and consent, not to delay and obstruct.

As you may be aware, recent discussion has mentioned the possible use of a
parliamentary change that would allow for a vote on judicial nominees.
This “Constitutional option” or “nuclear option”, as some have referred to
it in the media, would allow the Senate to have a simple majority vote as
required by the Constitution on a judicial nomination. Currently, some
Senators are choosing to filibuster judicial nominations in order to
prevent a final vote on their nominations. Under the current rules,
filibusters are defeated when a motion of cloture is passed by a
supermajority of 60 votes. Therefore, in order to have a simple up or down
majority vote on a qualified judicial nominee, the Senate must first pass a
motion of cloture which far exceeds the 51 votes required by the
Constitution. The Constitutional option would permit the Senate an up or
down vote following the ruling of the Senate’s presiding officer. This
common-sense approach will allow the Senate to consider the qualifications
of a potential judge, while still affording the minority the opportunity to
make its views known.

I recognize the importance of debate within the Senate chamber and its
longstanding tradition in the Senate. I support the use of the
“Constitutional option” should judicial nominations continue to be
flagrantly obstructed. I have always encouraged free and open discussion
by my colleagues on all of the issues. While I am aware that it is their
responsibility to make their views known on behalf of their constituencies,
it is also important to recognize that it is our duty to the nation as the
Senate to ensure that judicial nominees get a fair up or down vote.

Once again, I appreciate you contacting me on this matter and hope you will
not hesitate to contact me again about issues important to you. If you
would like to receive an e-mail newsletter about my initiatives to improve
America, please sign up on my website (http://allen.senate.gov). It is
an honor to serve you in the United States Senate, and I look forward to
working with you to make Virginia and America a better place to live,
learn, work and raise a family.

With warm regards, I remain

Sincerely,

Senator George Allen


You can imagine how nonplussed I was upon receiving this note today, so I spent a half-hour writing a reply. Upon sending it, I was informed electronically that Sen. Allen's Reply-To e-mail is non-functional and that his office only accepts correspondence through the pre-set interfaces on his website. One selects from a pre-scripted set of Subject Headings and is asked to keep the message limited to 10,000 characters (that latter part seems reasonable enough).

But then, I always hear that hand-written letters get more attention in Capitol offices than e-mails do, anyway, so I'm still going to take some time today or tomorrow to write this thing out. But here's the substance of what I plan to say. Comment below if you have editorial suggestions or additions.

Dear Senator Allen,

I read and appreciated your reply to my message, but I am still very
dissatisfied with your position; while I do not expect at this point that
you will change it, I want you to know why I am disappointed in your
choice.

The 60% cloture vote is important because it requires a consensus that
supersedes the obvious party lines by which Senators of both camps so
often vote. You write in your message that the "common sense" option is
to take judicial confirmations swiftly to a vote, but to me, it is "common
sense" that a federal judicial appointment, which has potent and
irrevocable effects long after the terms of the Senators, Congress, and
President who make the appointment, should require more than a party-line
stamp. Enormous pressure exists on Senators of both parties to align
themselves with party-endorsed candidates and initiatives; I am not so
jejune or unversed in this process that you can convince me that fair,
open, and germane "debate" is all that these judicial hearings will
ultimately be about. The political and party-serving motives are
enormous. The public knows this. What the "nuclear option" is about is
letting whichever party is in power push through some far-off-center
judicial nominees without any effective check in the entire process.

As your Senatorial constituent in Virginia, I am extremely sad and
increasingly angry about the recent wave of impulses to modify the U.S.
and State Constitutions, as well as basic Congressional procedures, in the
most sweeping ways. The proposed federal- and state-level amendments to
deny marriage rights (and possibly even civil unions) to gay and lesbian
couples is already a gross and unnecessary slight to millions upon
millions of conscientious, contributing American citizens--not just the
gay and lesbian couples who want to be married, but gays and lesbians who
don't want to be married (who nonetheless feel the discriminatory sting of
the Amendment) and absolutely anyone, married or unmarried, who feels that
human dignity, equal rights, separation of church and state, and the
pursuit of happiness are important. Now the "nuclear option" arises with
even more potential to wreak broad-based and unfortuitous change on
American society. When do these trends stop?

Please take a moment to re-consider what these truly grievous initiatives
are really about, and whether there might be some other way to reconcile
the problems they ostensibly seek to fix. What about judicial nominees
who don't immediately send the opposing party into such organized
resistance, because the nominee has broad enough appeal and qualifications
so as to merit the kind of fair, sensitive, and interested debate you
describe in your message? Why not increased education, job support, legal
rights, and public statements of belief in the value of America's gay and
lesbian citizens, so that marriage doesn't become such a solitary,
flashpoint issue in the public discourse around gay Americans, and so
Americans who currently imagine some spectral threat to their own ways of
life can understand that gay marriage and gay civil unions do not hurt
anybody?

I know and I appreciate that you work hard. I will look forward to the
day when the measures being debated in the Senate make me want to write
letters of enthusiasm and gratitude, rather than letters of disappointment
and heavy-hearted pleading. I hope you are at least listening, though I
take hope in having received one response from you already. I will look
forward to another.

Best,
Nicholas Davis
Fairfax Station, VA


Anyway, I'll look for y'all in the handbasket, right around the time it starts getting real hot.

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3 Comments:

Anonymous goatdog said...

Comments/advice
1. Unless you send it to a family member back in VA and have them mail it for you, his staffers will see the Ithaca postmark and put it in the "ignore" basket (which likely resembles a wastebasket).
2. He won't know what "jejune" means. (I admit I had to look it up.)

2:14 PM, May 05, 2005  
Blogger Nick Davis said...

Excellent advice, esp. regarding the postmark. I've got a brother and a Mom who'll be happy to comply, I'm sure. Thanks a bunch.

2:20 PM, May 05, 2005  
Blogger ModFab said...

Excellent work, Nick. You make me proud. (And say hello to your mother for me!)

10:26 AM, May 06, 2005  

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