There is much relief on the Democratic side and much consternation on the Republican side today after Republican moderates reached a deal with Democrats on two really terrible judges and another sort of medium-terrible one. The other four judges go down.
From a certain point of view, this is a qualified win for the Dems. But taking a longer view, I'm not sure this agreement really has any significance at all. The Dems gave the GOP three judges and a couple of empty promises. Recall that the man theoretically bound by the agreement, Harry Reid, came out immediately after the deal was reached and said that the Democrats were still considering filibustering the very next controversial nominee who comes to the Senate floor, John Bolton.
Frist says in the same article that he thinks that from now on filibusters of Supreme Court nominees would be "almost impossible." However, in my reading the word "extraordinary" is used to imply that on the very most serious questions the Democrats reserve the right to filibuster. There is nothing more serious than an appointment to a lifetime post on the only unchecked body in the U.S. government.
And of course, though it's a little strange how few commentators have mentiontioned this, of course this has been about the Chief Justice all along. The idea was to pave the way for Rehnquist to retire and for some really terrible replacement to be appointed, and Scalia moved to Chief Justice. The smart money is on Ken Starr right now.
If Starr is nominated to the high court, the Dems will be forced to filibuster. And if the Republicans bring this issue to the fore any time after early this winter, they will transform what was almost the most gargantuan political mistake in American history into one of the biggest political mistakes in human history.
The crisis has not been averted. It has merely been put on hold because the Republicans got cold feet at the last minute.