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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Senators Consider Filibuster Ban

WASHINGTON -- While senators argue over Texas jurist Priscilla Owen's blocked federal appeals court nomination on the Senate floor, the driving force in backroom negotiations in the Capitol is how senators will treat a future Supreme Court nominee if a vacancy opens up in the next two years.

"This whole debate, for me, is about the Supreme Court," said Senator Lindsey Graham, one of the Senate negotiators who scurried from office to office Wednesday trying to work out a deal that would avoid a showdown over whether to block the use of filibusters against judicial nominees. "What do you do with the next level? Can you get the Senate back to more of a normal working situation?"

Senate negotiators were to get back to work Thursday trying to find a compromise on confirming Owen and the seven other U.S. Appeals Court nominees. While lower court nominees are at the forefront of the argument, the clear subtext of the debate is how the Senate will treat a future Supreme Court nominee from President George W. Bush.

Republican leaders are concerned that Democrats want to enshrine judicial filibusters in the Senate so they can block a future Bush nominee to the nation's highest court, along with Owen and the six other lower court nominees they already have blocked using the parliamentary tactic that requires 60 votes to overcome.

While there are no current vacancies, Supreme Court watchers expect a retirement before the end of Bush's presidency. Chief Justice William Rehnquist, who is 80, is fighting thyroid cancer.

"When a Supreme Court position becomes open the issue will be, will it require 60 votes to approve a Supreme Court judge -- something that's never required -- or will it be a majority vote? Must we have a super majority?" said Republican Senator Sam Brownback.

But Democrats worry that Republicans want to get rid of judicial filibusters so the White House can use the Senate's Republican majority to ram through a nominee that Democrats will find extreme and objectionable. If such a move were to succeed, it would give the Republicans full control over which nominees could be confirmed for judgeships since the party controls the White House and has a 55-44-1 majority in the Senate.

"If Republicans roll back our rights in this chamber, there will be no check on their power," Senate Democratic leader Harry Reid said. "Their power will be unchecked on Supreme Court nominees, the president's nominees in general and legislation like Social Security privatization."

Senate centrists hope to avoid both options. If they can get 12 senators to agree to a deal -- six Republicans and six Democrats -- they can prevent Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist from banning judicial filibusters and keep Reid from filibustering Bush appointees.