Friday, December 28, 2007

Filibuster? I hardly know her!

In the early days of email forwards, and even before that, I used to delight in those lists of allegedly arcane laws that would circulate. (Here's a good example list. Like, here in New York, unwanted flirting is apparently punishable by forcing the offending party to wear horse blinders.) Their veracity was always very suspect, and a good number of them were probably impossible to enforce even if they WERE real laws, but they were still amusing.

I bet Robert Byrd likes them too, because an arcane Senate rule once helped him bust through a filibuster.

In February 1988, a campaign finance measure was on the Senate floor, and the Republicans were attempting to keep it from going to a vote by any means necessary. This included playing hooky from the session to prevent a quorum from being present. Frustrated with the low turnout, then-Senate majority leader Byrd invoked an old rule that empowered the Sergeant-at-Arms to physically round up absent parties and force them to attend the session. Those present voted 45 to 3 to proceed, and so the Sergeant-at-Arms was dispatched.

(The Sergeant-at-Arms, by the way, is an actual salaried position, and he's usually a pretty tough guy. Back when I was in high school, we had Sergeant-at-Arms as an office you could run for in most clubs, but it was mostly just another opportunity for kids to pad their college resumes, since really, who's going to filibuster at a Key Club meeting?)

Among those arrested were Senator Bob Packwood (R-OR), who'd barricaded himself inside his office. According to an article in the National Review, "a cleaning woman ratted on him," and the Sergeant-at-Arms, together with two aides, forced open the door to apprehend Packwood. Another senator, Steve Symms of Idaho, was spotted but outran his would-be captors.

Here's the entire article in question. It's much funnier if you envision all of this with the "Benny Hill" theme playing underneath it.

Here's more information, courtesy of the U.S. Senate, about filibustering. The Senate now has the power to shut someone up with a 2/3 majority, but it hasn't stopped folks like Strom Thurmond and Huey Long from taking up hours of floor time to stall a vote.

No comments: