Senator Robert Byrd spoke at a MoveOn.org rally yesterday in Washington DC against the "nuclear option," which would eliminate the filibuster for judicial nominees. Here's a picture:
The sign in front of him makes it pretty clear what they're trying to do yet again -- falsely claim that the "nuclear option" is an assault on free speech and the Constitution. Byrd's speech was quite explicit about this (worst parts in bold):
An ill wind is blowing across this country. That wind blows the seeds of destruction. Our Constitution is under attack. We must speak out and kill this dangerous effort to rewrite our precious Constitution. Our freedom of speech is in jeopardy.
Some in the United States Senate want to “bully” the American people and the Senate and force feed us far right wing judges.
We cannot let them do it!
Their view of the Constitution is based on the opinions of a fancy Washington law firm. Our view of the Constitution is based on the views of the Framers who wrote it.
They say we don’t need 200 years of American history. Oh no! According to opponents of the filibuster, 200 years of history is a bore. It’s simply passe. Old hat. They say the Constitution is stale bread. Opponents of free speech see no need to rely on Jefferson, Franklin, Madison, or Hamilton.
They want to nuke debate in the Senate and stand the Senate rules on their head. They want to gag the world’s greatest deliberative body.
These instant Constitutional “experts” want to warp the Senate’s Constitutional purpose with a witch’s brew of half-truths, twisted logic and vicious attacks on American history. Why? Because they don’t like the rules. They want to change the rules so they can pack the courts.
They want to change the rules in the middle of the game to get their own way. Who cares about the consequences for the rest of the country? Who cares about minority views in a free society?
Don’t they know that sometimes the majority can be wrong? No! They don’t care! They want what they want, and they want it now. Consequences be damned!
They want the Senate to rubber stamp their judges, just like they wanted the Senate to rubber stamp the wrong headed war in Iraq!
This is a nation built by God-fearing people who want to preserve liberty. The people fear the policies of this White House and its judicial nominees. They worry about the $1 billion a week that we spend for the war in Iraq. They worry about the ballooning federal deficit. People are afraid for their social security. People are afraid for their basic rights.
Are we going to be muzzled by a majority that wants to silence us on all of these issues? Delay, deliberation, and debate may be a waste of time to some, but it’s free speech and the American way to all of us who love our country.
There must be no gag rule for the United States Senate. We must preserve free speech and the rights of the minority. Spread the word high and low. Court packing no - - free speech yes. Nuke the nuclear option. No gag rule in the U.S. Senate.
(1) Legislators have no right to free speech. If they did, nothing would get done. Right now, 60 senators have the right to cut off debate and bring a bill to a vote -- by Byrd's logic, this is an infringement of "free speech," even though he's voted for such motions in the past. The "nuclear option" would change the threshold to 50 for judicial appointees. But in either case, debate must be cut off or there would never be votes. The issue in question is minority power, not free speech.
(2) The filibuster isn't in the Constitution. It's a tradition, but has evolved a great deal over time. To call this an assault on the Constitution is ridiculous.
Update 3/17: The DLC has published a much smarter and more restrained article criticizing the "nuclear option." It comes much closer than Byrd to convincing me that it's a bad idea.