WASHINGTON – Former Senate Majority Leader George Mitchell (search) called on senators Saturday to reject a Republican plan to ban filibusters (search) of judicial nominees, calling it "unprecedented, unfair and unwise."
"Neither I nor any other senator, Republican or Democrat, ever dreamed of taking the kind of drastic action now being proposed," said Mitchell, a former federal judge himself who was majority leader from 1988-95 as a senator from Maine.
"We had the power to do so, but we refrained from exercising that power because it was as wrong then as it is now. The end does not justify the means," he said in the Democrats' weekly radio address.
Sen. Bill Frist (search), R-Tenn., the majority leader, has threatened to try to push through a rule change to eliminate the ability to filibuster judicial nominees.
Democrats have been using filibuster threats — to stall the nomination through extended debate — on 10 of President Bush's judicial nominees, which requires 60 votes to overcome. The Senate has confirmed 204 of the president's 214 trial and appellate judicial nominees.
Observers expect Frist to attempt the rules change before Memorial Day in case of a possible Supreme Court nomination during Bush's second term. Chief Justice William Rehnquist (search), 80, is fighting thyroid cancer.
Mitchell said the ability to block judges is an important part of Congress's power to check the presidency. "The Senate's power to confirm or reject judicial nominations balances the president's authority to nominate them," he said
Frist's plan is called "the nuclear option" because "it will destroy any hope of bipartisanship and permanently change the Senate for the worse," Mitchell said.
Senate Democratic leader Harry Reid of Nevada has threatened to shut down the Republican legislative agenda, which would cripple the Senate, if Frist succeeds in stopping the filibusters.
Republicans want to "silence the minority," Mitchell said. "What they are proposing is unprecedented, unfair and unwise. Our democracy works best when the parties work together in the interest of all Americans."
Mitchell served as a U.S. District Court judge from 1979-80 before filling the Senate seat vacated by Edmund Muskie.