May 26, 2009

It was only eight days ago that Republican Senator Jeff Sessions became the ranking member on the Senate Judiciary Committee, replacing Arlen Specter. This elevated a once-fierce opponent of judicial filibusters to the head of a party that will obviously embrace the filibuster in the coming weeks.

Sessions began to backtrack on his long support for the "nuclear option" only hours later:

Sessions: Democrats were filibustering successfully quite a number of [President Bush's] nominees, and the issue became joined. So, when the Gang of 14 comes along and says, "You shouldn't filibuster much, but if you do, it should only be for extraordinary circumstances," that sort of stopped it. A lot of people think that sets a new standard for the future, although I don't know that it is a concrete standard.

I haven't reached a firm moral conviction about the issue. I do think, based on our recent history, an argument could be made that a filibuster, if you think this is an extraordinary circumstance, is legitimate. I will not say I would forever oppose it at this point.

This represents an abrupt break with his long-held position. From Kirk Victor, Ready to Do the Right Thing? The National Journal May 3, 2008:

"Bill Frist worked for a year and a half," Sessions recalled in a recent interview. "He researched the history of the Senate, he studied all that--finally got the 50 votes after prodigious effort on his part. And the Gang of 14 just runs out away from the majority leader and cuts a deal out from under him. They acted like they deserved credit for this great event, but it was because Frist had diligently worked to create the dynamic to allow that kind of settlement. I didn't appreciate it, and I still don't."

From Erin P. Billings, 'Gang' Set to Meet on Judges; Parties Circle Warily on Pair, Roll Call, May 3, 2006:

With the battle lines already being drawn, Sen. Jeff Sessions (R-Ala.) said he believes the Senate may be back to where it was a year ago when the original Gang of 14 deal was struck. Sessions questioned Democrats' rationale for opposing the confirmation of Kavanaugh and Boyle and said he expects the Senate is headed toward an encore of the 2005 judicial showdown.

"If they want to fight this issue, we're just going to have to fight it again," Sessions said. "I think they are entitled to an up-or-down vote."

From Brian Mitchell and Sean Higgins, Filibuster Deal Will Let Some Judges In; But GOP Leaders Grumbling Investor's Business Daily May 25, 2005

Sen. Jeff Sessions, R-Ala., cast Monday night's deal as a rejection of the Democrats' party-led filibusters, not the constitutional option.

"It does not reflect the majority of either party, but it does reflect, in my view, a fact that a majority of this Congress does not believe that filibusters are the way to go," he said. "There has been no waiver of the right to utilize the constitutional option."

From Mark Preston, Both Parties Whip 'Nuclear' Undecideds Roll Call April 21, 2005:

Earlier in the day, several Republican freshman Senators held a news conference expressing their support for a simple majority vote to approve judicial nominees. This show of solidarity is needed, said several Republicans, who noted that if Frist is unable to convince at least 51 Republicans to support the measure, it could damage the internal comity of the GOP Conference, several senior Senators said.

"It could have a long-term effect," said Sen. Trent Lott (R-Miss.) "This is big."

Sen. Jeff Sessions (R-Ala.) echoed Lott's comments, saying, "It would be detrimental to the caucus if it were to fail. I think it could be damaging to our unity, no doubt."

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