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Filibuster must end to save Supreme Court

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Commentary:

During the next few weeks, voters will get their first chance to weigh in on the recent rulings by our new Supreme Court, with its 6-3 conservative majority.

The unelected and unaccountable justices are not likely to notice or care. They will be too busy reshaping our nation’s laws to fit their religious and political preferences.

After ending 50 years of women’s reproductive rights, neutering the Environmental Protection Agency, overturning local gun laws and forcing states to fund religious schools in last year’s session, justices have a new slate of cases lined up for this year. 

This term, the court will end the use of race in college admissions, give state legislatures authority over the courts in certifying elections, allow more businesses to refuse service to LGBTQ customers and strip protections from the Clean Water Act.

Given the court’s 6-3 majority, there’s no question which way it will rule on any of these issues. The only question is how will Chief Justice John Roberts vote, and how will he continue to defend the court as being neutral arbiters above the political fray when we all know that is a lie.

All of which leads to one sad conclusion, the end of the filibuster in the U.S. Senate.

I’ve written three columns on the issue previously, all defending the filibuster. A career of covering government in both red and blue states has given me sympathy for the minority party, regardless of which one it is, and a strong belief that government works best when both sides have a chance to actively participate.

Perhaps the best argument for keeping the filibuster is what has happened to the Supreme Court confirmation process ever since it ended. Senators used to routinely vote for nominees of the other party. Ruth Bader Ginsberg was confirmed 96-3. A “no” vote meant there were real concerns about that nominee.

Sen. Mitch McConnell ended the filibuster ahead of the vote for Brett Kavanaugh in 2017, and now the confirmation princess is no different than any other vote, with party affiliation all that matters.

The best argument for ending the filibuster is the result of that confirmation process, a Supreme Court that is far more politically conservative than the nation as a whole, and is completely unrestrained in its efforts to turn back social advances.

Democratic political leaders are hoping to use these decisions to motivate a discouraged base to get out and vote in the midterms, and I second that motion. But, Samuel Alito isn’t up for re-election, and never will be.

We have a super-majority of conservative justices who, for the most part, are young and healthy and have decades of conservative rulings to come. Nothing we do at the polls will change that.

The only way to change it will be through legislation reforming the Supreme Court, and that can’t happen without removal of the filibuster.

Several different kinds of reform have been suggested. The goal should be to depoliticize the court as much as possible and select justices through a merit-based system where political leanings take a back seat to knowledge and experience. A simple code of ethics would be a good start.

And, we need term limits. No government appointment should be for life. That notion should have been rejected when we decided on a democracy over a monarchy.

Walter Rubel can be reached at waltrubel@gmail.com.