Students delivered speeches denouncing the arrogance of Frist and President George W. Bush in running roughshod over all opposition. They read excerpts from Shakespeare’s “Henry V,” Homer’s “Iliad” and other masterpieces warning that imperial arrogance comes back to haunt the imperialists.
The mock filibuster started two weeks ago at Princeton University in front of the Frist Campus Center, which was built with a $25 million donation from the senator’s family.
“The filibuster is not a partisan issue,” said Jenny Cieplak, a student at Georgetown University Law School. “It’s a question of preserving minority rights, democracy. The nuclear option is a case of certain Republicans wanting to change the rules if they can’t get all their judicial nominees confirmed.”
It currently takes 60 votes to end a filibuster and confirm a judicial nomination. Frist, rejecting compromise, is seeking early up or down votes on Judge Priscilla Owens and Judge Janice Rogers Brown, named by Bush to seats on the federal appeals court.
Civil rights groups ranging from the NAACP and the Leadership Conference on Civil Rights (LCCR) to People For the American Way have rejected both jurists as extremists who threaten to reverse decades of progress in the fight for equal rights.
“It is absolutely unconscionable that the president and Senate Republican leaders are prepared to destroy our system of checks and balances over a handful of unfit, unqualified judges like Rogers Brown and Owen,” said Wade Henderson, LCCR executive director.
Appeals are being made to Republican senators — Susan Collins and Olympia Snowe, both of Maine, Lincoln Chafee of Rhode Island, George Voinovich of Ohio, Arlen Specter of Pennsylvania and Chuck Hagel of Nebraska — to join the 44 Democrats and one Independent to vote against the nuclear option. Vice President Dick Cheney, president of the Senate, announced he would vote “aye” in case of a tie vote.
At Princeton, students, faculty and congressmen have kept the filibuster going around the clock at the campus center financed by the Frist family, who are the billionaire owners of the HCA-Columbia health care empire that has been fined a total of $1.7 billion for Medicare fraud.
FilibusterFrist.com, the student activists’ web site, gives live footage from their filibuster and also provides tips for starting filibusters on other campuses. Other protests have been organized at Harvard, Stanford, Berkeley, Boston College, Tufts, Yale, University of Texas-Austin and Carleton College in the past three weeks, according to CNN, but none have lasted as long as the one at Princeton.
“It’s harmful to democracy when one party consolidates so much power,” Kent Kuran, a Princeton freshman who traveled to Washington for the day’s event, told the World.
“In effect, it disenfranchises half the country that didn’t vote for them. The filibuster is one mechanism that forces them to at least consider other people’s views and hopefully to compromise.”
Bush has faced sharp rebuff on a wide range of issues including Social Security privatization and the filibuster itself, Kuran said. “That is why the Republicans are so desperate to lock in their system — because they are not on the popular side on any of these issues.”
“If they use the nuclear option to end the filibuster, it will deeply affect women’s reproductive rights,” Tangier Belton, a junior at Trinity College in Washington, told the World. The two judges’ views on abortion rights “are so extreme [that if] they win seats on the Court of Appeals it could affect future generations of women,” Belton said.
“Look at affirmative action. Bush and the right wing keep chipping away, chipping away. What’s going to be left?”
Tim Weil, a Princeton graduate student in molecular biology, charged that Bush has surrounded himself with “true believers” who share his right-wing values.
“It’s created an unhealthy, scary scenario,’ he said. “Bush has removed the opposition from the discussion.”
John Mangual, a Princeton math major, is Puerto Rican and grew up in the Bronx. “Something important is happening here,” he said as he helped assemble placards for the crowd. “We are using freedom of speech the way it was intended to be used — to speak out against the nuclear option.”
Contrary to Frist’s claims, Mangual said, the filibuster has been used sparingly and to good effect. “If it is repealed, checks and balances will be gone and, with it, the rights of the minority. I myself am a minority so it makes sense for me to defend the rights of the minority.”