Strengthening Constitutional Self-Government

No Left Turns

Deprogramming David Brooks

Lucas Morel called our attention to this column by David Brooks. Now, joining Morel and Richard Reeb, Peter Lawler is piling on. A snippet:

Brooks doesn’t let us see clearly or dwell upon the fact that while the abolitionist evangelicals may well have been imprudent, they were clearly to the left of Lincoln and on the right side of history on the slavery issue. Brooks only alludes to this best example for his otherwise vague conclusion that "the evangelical tradition is deeply consistent with the American creed." The abolitionist evangelicals, in their enthusiasm, thought the principles of the Declaration should trump even the Constitution.

That example also shows us that Lincoln and Brooks are right to add that "evangelical causes can overflow the banks defined by our constitutional documents." The abolitionist evangelicals were at war with what our Constitutional actually said.

Brooks then goes on to compare their abolitionist enthusiasm with "the social conservatives’ attempt to end the judicial filibuster." But doing away with the filibuster won’t produce a civil war. The filibuster isn’t in the Constitution or any of our constitutional documents. It is merely part of the way the Senate regulates itself and has no constitutional or founding status at all.

Like Reeb and Morel, Lawler is, of course, right. Brooks seems to have been inveigled into believing that threatening the judicial filibuster is the same as threatening the constitution, which is what the Democratic obstructionists want us to believe. As Peter says, "Don’t be seduced!"

Update: Let me take this opportunity also to invite readers to take a look at my
op-ed on some of these matters over at the main Ashbrook site.

Discussions - 1 Comment

Below is a letter I sent of to David Brooks. What surprises me most about the debate is why conservatives aren’t explaining that allowing a minority of Senators to veto the President’s judicial nominees actually violates the Framers’ design. As noted below, the majority veto represented a compromise. Moreover, the minority veto can (and does today) actually impair the system of checks and balances by preventing the executive and legislative branches from checking the (gross) usurpations of the judiciary.

Dear Mr. Brooks:

Thank you for your thoughtful piece in the Times today. The absolute claims of religion (or any other set of beliefs, I might add) can and should be tempered by political prudence. Nonetheless, one of your historical claims was misleading, and another was simply false.

First, while noting Lincoln’s appreciation of the importance of prudence to politics, you state that "[t]he only truths he could rely upon were those contained in the Declaration of Independence: that human beings are endowed with unalienable rights." What you fail to point out is that Lincoln understood that prudence also should temper the pursuit of equal protection for the rights. Consequently, he eschewed radical abolitionism, in favor of (very) gradual emancipation. Moreover, it should be noted, the Declaration itself recognizes that prudence should temper the demands of justice: "Prudence indeed will dictate...."

Second, you claim that the attempted abolition of the filibuster of judges might "overflow[] the banks defined by our founding documents." Our Founders established that a majority, not a supermajority, of the Senate could veto a presidential selection. The rule is suggested in the language of Article II, and the debates in the Convention indicate that the Framers understood the Senate’s power in this way. Madison, with the support of Gouvernor Morris, proposed that a senatorial veto require 2/3 of the Senate. After several delegates voiced objections, Madison (on July 21) modified his proposal so that it took the form eventually adopted by the Convention. In so doing, he remarked "that he was not anxious that 2/3 should be necessary to disagree to a nomination...He was content to obviate the objection last made, and accordingly so varied the motion as to let a majority reject" (emphasis added).

The use of the filibuster so as to create a minority veto of presidential judicial nominees effectively repudiates the majority-veto compromise accepted by the Convention.

Yours truly,

David Upham Austin, TX

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