Strengthening Constitutional Self-Government

No Left Turns

Byrd’s dubious constitutionalism

There he goes again, this time in a sanitized version on the op-ed page of today’s WaPo. Here’s a sample paragraph:

It starts with shutting off debate on judges, but it won’t end there. This nuclear option could rob a senator of the right to speak out against an overreaching executive branch or a wrongheaded policy. It could destroy the Senate’s very essence -- the constitutional privilege of free speech and debate.

Here’s the text of the letter I sent to the Post:

Senator Robert Byrd misuses the constitutional language of rights in a characteristically hyperbolic defense of Democratic obstruction of President Bush’s judicial nominees. He implies that First Amendment values are implicated in resisting Republican efforts to limit debate. Nothing could be further from the truth.

Freedom of speech has historically been concerned with censorship, i.e., the regulation of the content of speech, or viewpoint discrimination. Senator Byrd is not being deprived of his right to make any intemperate, silly, or ill-advised remarks he wishes.

But there is no constitutional right to speak, in effect, forever. If there were, then cloture itself would be unconstitutional, an argument that the Senator himself has not yet been brazen enough to make.

By hiding behind the constitutional language of rights in what is clearly a political dispute, Senator Byrd contributes to the cheapening of constitutional discourse, which would be a sad legacy for the self-proclaimed Senatorial guardian of the Constitution.

Here, via The Corner, is a devastating response to Byrd.

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