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Senate Power Grab Imperils Our Rights

Saturday, February 1, 2014

When President Barack Obama and U.S. Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid forced a party-line vote in November to strip the minority’s right to speak from U.S. Senate rules, the Founders’ 224-year-old vision of separation of powers took a grievous hit. That highly partisan action makes effective opposition to unwise and ideologically extreme judicial nominations especially difficult, and imperils the future of the Second Amendment. It’s just a matter of time before this “tyranny of the majority” makes the rule change applicable to Supreme Court nominations and legislation itself. 

Specifically, by a 52-48 vote, the Democratic majority abolished the rule permitting unlimited debate for executive nominations, including all judicial appointments except Supreme Court nominees. Under that once-hallowed rule, senators could force drawn-out debate to slow or block legislation or executive appointments which lack merit. Such debate under filibuster rules could only be ended by a vote of 60 senators.

But in a blatant power grab, neutering the right to speak was accomplished by a simple majority vote—contrary to a standing rule requiring a super majority to change Senate rules and then only at the beginning of a new Congress.

The precedent set by this high-handed rules change makes future bleeding-out of Senate power to the executive that much easier and inviting. 

Shamelessly, senators who enthusiastically embraced Obama’s demands to dilute the constitutional duty of the Senate were vehemently against such a change in 2005, when it was last proposed.

Try this from 2005, from arch-enemies of the Second Amendment: Sen. Charles Schumer, D-N.Y., called the proposed loss of the filibuster “a constitutional crisis,” warning, “The checks and balances, which have been at the core of this Republic, are about to be evaporated. …”

Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., said ending the filibuster “will turn the Senate into a body that could have its rules broken at any time by a majority of senators unhappy with any position taken by the minority. It begins with judicial nominations. Next will be executive appointments. And then, legislation.”

Then-U.S. Sen. Barack Obama, D-Ill., said an alteration of the filibuster rule “would change the character of the Senate forever” creating what he called “majoritarian absolute power … that’s just not what the Founders intended.”

Now, Obama says the minority’s right to speak and debate “just isn’t normal. It’s not what our founders envisioned … and for the sake of future generations, we can’t let it become normal.”

What will all this new “normal” mean for the nation’s gun owners in the immediate future?

A Nov. 22, 2013 MSNBC headline says it all, “… bring on the liberal judges”.

President Obama now possesses carte blanche to pack the lower federal courts
and his already lawless bureaucracy with extreme ideologues—all without any meaningful opposition from a Senate minority. 

U.S. Sen. Lamar Alexander, r-Tenn., described all of this as “the most dangerous restructuring of Senate rules since Thomas Jefferson wrote them …” And he warned, “It creates a perpetual opportunity for ‘tyranny of the majority’ … one of the greatest threats to American democracy.”

Writing in The Washington Post Nov. 22, 2013, Sen. Alexander said killing minority rights in the Senate is an “exercise of partisan political power to permit the majority to do whatever it wants. This time, the goal was advancing its agenda unchecked through the courts and executive agencies.”

In terms of the federal judiciary alone, at immediate stake are three judicial appointees to the 11-seat U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia—the second most powerful court in the land, which understudies the U.S. Supreme Court. Once seated for lifetime terms, those nominees would overpower that bench, which hears most challenges against federal regulation. That court, it should be noted, rendered a pivotal decision which became the underpinning for the Supreme Court’s historic Heller decision affirming our individual right to keep and bear arms.

Beyond that, there are additionally at least 100 federal judicial vacancies across the nation. And that doesn’t count powerful administrative law judges in federal agencies.

Then there are thousands of federal bureaucrats subject to Senate confirmation, who could have untold adverse impact on our rights: ranging from the head of the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives, to officials of the Environmental Protection Agency, the Department of Interior, the Department of State, Health and Human Services, and Department of Homeland Security. And that’s just the beginning.

Having reinvented Senate rules and tradition guiding that chamber, the next easy step will indeed go to lawmaking itself. And the White House—which stands to gain from the Senate’s continued self-emasculation—is already spinning its message in that direction.

Obama has already moved directly into the next dimension—stripping the Senate’s unlimited
debate affecting legislation.
Referring to the Senate’s historic role as envisioned by our Founding Fathers, Obama has complained that, “we’ve seen an unprecedented pattern of obstruction in Congress that’s prevented too much of the American people’s business from getting done.”

Key among Obama’s “people’s business” is gun control, wherein he says the Senate rules have “been used to block common-sense and widely supported steps to protect more Americans from gun violence, even as families of victims sat in the Senate chamber and watched.” Peppered throughout the media echo-chamber of White House talking points on liquidation of the filibuster was a term oft-repeated by senators doing the president’s bidding. Over and over, they said, exercise of minority rights had just reached a “tipping point.”  Indeed, there is a tipping point in all of this, but it’s not what the enemies of freedom think. It is a “tipping point” all right, but one for American voters in the 2014 elections with gun owners at the forefront who plainly fear the unchecked lawlessness of the Obama administration and now the lawlessness of the “tyranny of the majority”—Obama’s willing minions in the U.S. Senate.

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Established in 1975, the Institute for Legislative Action (ILA) is the "lobbying" arm of the National Rifle Association of America. ILA is responsible for preserving the right of all law-abiding individuals in the legislative, political, and legal arenas, to purchase, possess and use firearms for legitimate purposes as guaranteed by the Second Amendment to the U.S. Constitution.