An Excerpt of Remarks by US Senator Byrd – 2005-03-07 08:35:19
US SENATE (March 1, 2005) — Many times in our history we have taken up arms to protect a minority against the tyrannical majority in other lands. We, unlike Nazi Germany or Mussolini’s Italy, have never stopped being a nation “of laws, not of men.”
But witness how men with motives and a majority can manipulate law to cruel and unjust ends.
Historian Alan Bullock writes that Hitler’s dictatorship rested on the constitutional foundation of a single law, the Enabling Law. Hitler needed a two-thirds vote to pass that law, and he cajoled his opposition in the Reichstag to support it. Bullock writes that “Hitler was prepared to promise anything to get his bill through, with the appearances of legality preserved intact.” And he succeeded.
“Hitler’s originality lay in his realization that effective revolutions, in modern conditions, are carried out with, and not against, the power of the State: the correct order of events was first to secure access to that power and then begin his revolution. Hitler never abandoned the cloak of legality; he recognized the enormous psychological value of having the law on his side. Instead, he turned the law inside out and made illegality legal.”
The ‘Nuclear Option’ Threatens the Senate
And that is what the nuclear option seeks to do to Rule XXII of the Standing Rules of the Senate.
It seeks to alter the rules by sidestepping the rules, thus making the impermissible the rule. Employing the “nuclear option”, engaging a pernicious, procedural maneuver to serve immediate partisan goals, risks violating our nation’s core democratic values and poisoning the Senate’s deliberative process.
For the temporary gain of a hand-full of “out of the mainstream” judges, some in the Senate are ready to callously incinerate each Senator’s right of extended debate. Note that I said each Senator. For the damage will devastate not just the minority party. It will cripple the ability of each member to do what each was sent here to do — represent the people of his or her state.
Without the filibuster or the threat of extended debate, there exists no leverage with which to bargain for the offering of an amendment. All force to effect compromise between the two political parties is lost. Demands for hearings can languish.
The President can simply rule, almost by Executive Order if his party controls both houses of Congress, and Majority Rule reins supreme. In such a world, the Minority is crushed; the power of dissenting views diminished; and freedom of speech attenuated.
The uniquely American concept of the independent individual, asserting his or her own views, proclaiming personal dignity through the courage of free speech will, forever, have been blighted. And the American spirit — that stubborn, feisty, contrarian, and glorious urge to loudly disagree, and proclaim, despite all opposition, what is honest and true — will be sorely manacled.
Defend the Voice of the Minority
Yes, we believe in Majority rule, but we thrive because the minority can challenge, agitate, and question. We must never become a nation cowed by fear, sheeplike in our submission to the power of any majority demanding absolute control.
Generations of men and women have lived, fought and died for the right to map their own destiny, think their own thoughts, and speak their minds. If we start, here, in this Senate, to chip away at that essential mark of freedom — here of all places, in a body designed to guarantee the power of even a single individual through the device of extended debate — we are on the road to refuting the Preamble to our own Constitution and the very principles upon which it rests.
In the eloquent, homespun words of that illustrious, obstructionist, Senator Smith, “Liberty is too precious to get buried in books. Men ought to hold it up in front of them every day of their lives, and say, ‘I am free — to think — to speak. My ancestors couldn’t. I can. My children will.”