Thursday, December 8, 2011

Principles and Commitments

Yesterday an anonymous commenter drew attention to the text of the "Gang of 14" agreement to argue that Sen. Collins had committed to the "extraordinary circumstances" standard for judicial nominee filibusters only for a set period of time.

Indeed, the text of the agreement specifies that its provisions are "related to...judicial nominations in the 109th Congress." So it's certainly fair to say that Collins, by backing filibusters in less than extraordinary circumstances several years later, hasn't violated the letter of the agreement.

On the other hand, I don't remember anyone stressing the time-limited nature of the Gang of 14 compromise when it was put into effect. In fact, I'd go so far as to say that there was a widely shared sense that the "extraordinary circumstances" standard in particular was being put forward as a "new normal"--one the Gang of 14 members didn't just settle for but actually believed in.

And the contemporaneous news accounts that show up near the top of a Google search do nothing to undercut that impression.

But of course, the best way to evaluate Collins' integrity on the issue is to look at her own statements. Here's her press release on the agreement:

This agreement is based on trust. And most important, it helps preserve the unique culture of this institution. It is a culture that is built upon a foundation of collegiality and cooperation that transcends partisanship. It is a culture in which legislative goals are reached with patience and perseverance, and through the art of negotiation and compromise. This agreement preserves that Senate culture and shows a respect for the important principles that make the Senate such a great institution.
And here she is in 2010, several years after the end of the 109th Congress:
In 2005, a group of senators came together to negotiate an agreement for considering judicial nominees. This "Gang of 14," of which I was part, sought to avoid what was known as the "nuclear option," a change in the Senate rules that would have brought about a legislative meltdown.


While leaders on both sides hardened their positions, the 14 of us--seven from each party--joined to forge a solution. We established a new standard, stating that we would support filibusters of judicial nominees only in "extraordinary circumstances."


Our deal restored trust and helped preserve the unique culture of the Senate.
If in 2010 Collins thought that her commitment to the culture-preserving, principle-respecting "extraordinary circumstances" standard had long lapsed...she sure had a funny way of expressing it.

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