4-08-05, 9:37 am
Heard Across America: 'Don't Go Nuclear!'
Opposition to a 'nuclear' Senate continues to gain momentum nationwide. More than 300 people gathered in Washington D.C. and New York City yesterday to send a loud and clear message to senators: 'Don't go nuclear.'
At the rally in Washington D.C., an alliance of groups delivered anti-nuclear petitions, signed by more than 1 million Americans, on the steps of the U.S. Supreme Court.
'The nuclear option is an abuse of power, and today, Americans from across the country told Republicans loud and clear to stop,' said Senate Democratic Leader Reid, D-Nev., who received the petitions at the Supreme Court. 'Over one million citizens are standing up for their right to be heard in Washington. If Republicans can silence the Democrats in the Senate, their power will be unchecked. That's not how our government works, and Senate Democrats will continue to fight to protect the historic power of the Senate to ensure a fair and independent judiciary.'
The maneuver to eliminate filibusters, dubbed the 'nuclear option,' would end 200-year-old Senate traditions and deny senators in the minority the right to filibuster against measures with which they disagree. In trying to invoke the nuclear option for judicial nominations, Republicans would bypass Senate rules that allow filibustering by asking for a ruling from the Senate's presiding officer – Vice President Dick Cheney – that any filibuster was 'out of order.' Only 51 votes would be needed to uphold the ruling, as opposed to the 60 votes needed to end a filibuster.
The petitions, signed by ordinary Americans from across the country, ask senators to oppose Senate Republican Leader Bill Frist's nuclear option and to protect the country's system of checks and balances.
Petition signer Corey Rowley presented Senator Reid with the petitions.
'As an American with a disability and someone who has made her life's work protecting the rights of people with disabilities, this is a very personal battle,' Rowley said. 'Disabled Americans have fought hard to earn the same rights as all Americans. It hasn't always been a popular battle and it hasn't always enjoyed majority support, so I appreciate the need to protect the voice of the minority. A lot of people say this is about politics, but it shouldn't be. To me, this is not a partisan issue. It's an issue of right and wrong and breaking the rules is just plain wrong.'
The rally was organized by the Coalition for a Fair and Independent Judiciary, an alliance of civil rights, human rights, labor, religious and women's organizations.
In New York, Americans for Fair Courts, another broad coalition of civil rights advocacy groups, also held a rally to preserve the system of checks and balances. Scores of activists gathered in Union Square Park to save the filibuster, stop the 'nuclear option,' and protect the Supreme Court.
The centerpiece of the event was a 'nuclear option fallout shelter,' assembled in the park to draw attention to Republican threats to silence debate over judicial nominees. To dramatize the rights and freedoms at stake, inside the shelter were containers marked 'freedom,' 'privacy,' 'debate,' tradition,' 'checks and balances,' and 'fairness,' among many others.
Meanwhile, thousands of Americans from across the country have been picking up telephones and dialing their senators to echo the same sentiment: 'Don't go nuclear.' The National Call-In Days event is scheduled to continue until the end of the week.
'Americans need to understand what is at stake. The American people need to know that if we let Republican leaders break the Senate rules to cut off debate, we are setting a dangerous precedent that undermines our democracy and the constitutional system designed so carefully by the Founding Fathers,' said Wade Henderson, executive director of the Leadership Conferene on Civil Rights. 'This is not just about a handful of judges or even just the Supreme Court, it is about the integrity of the institution and everything we hold dear.'