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April 14, 2005

Unusual coalition joins forces in “The Filibuster to Save the Filibuster”

Unusual coalition joins forces in
The Filibuster to Save the Filibuster
 I know I’m being disrespectful to this honorable body, I know that, says James Stewart in the famous 1939 film Mr. Smith Goes to Washington. Smith’s disrespectful behavior was conducting a one-senator filibuster to stop crooked land interests from plundering the public trough.
A guy like me should never be allowed to get in here in the first place,” he said, “I know that! And I hate to stand here and try your patience like this, but EITHER I’M DEAD RIGHT OR I’M CRAZY.
Students and faculty at the University of Oregon School of Law were treated to a passable imitation of Stewart on Monday, April 11, as the UO’s chapter of American Constitution Society held a mock filibuster in the Wayne Morse Commons of the Knight Law Center in order to raise the visibility of conservative plans to limit debate on President Bush’s judicial nominees.

Chapter member Alexander Frix ’06 initiated the event, which he hopes will be remembered as “The Filibuster to Save the Filibuster.” The event eventually involved more than a dozen student and faculty speakers to produce a non-stop flood of oratory between 9 a.m. and 5 p.m. What better place to filibuster than in the commons named after Oregon’s famous gadfly, who spoke on his feet for over 22 hours to protect a minority viewpoint? said Frix.

Frix also provided the imitation of Stewart as he read from the script of Mr. Smith. The Commons also heard slightly less pitch-perfect imitations of Richard Nixon (in his famous Checkers Speech) and former Missouri Senator G.G. Vest, the author of the famed Eulogy of the Dog.

But political speechifying was not the only content of the filibuster. Lauren Sommers ’06 read from William Goldman’s The Princess Bride; Cindy Mitchell ’06 read On the Rainy River by Tim O’Brien; Aaron Grieser ’07 read from Shel Silverstein’s Where the Sidewalk Ends; visiting professor Svitlana Kravchenko delivered a brief address in her native Russian; and chapter faculty adviser Garrett Epps read a long selection from The Queen of Sheba, a romantic fantasy by J.C. Mardrus.  

 The filibuster project actually produced an unusual coalition. Tom Stine ’05, former president of the UO’s chapter of the Federalist Society, joined the demonstration by reading the 1952 Checkers Speech, in which then vice-presidential candidate Richard M. Nixon portrayed those who were critical of his private slush fund as if they were demanding that his children give back the cocker spaniel they received as a gift from a supporter.
Stine prefaced his remarks by reminding the audience that during the 50s and 60s the filibuster had been a major obstacle to the passage of civil rights legislation. I joined in, because I believe in a collegial atmosphere at the law school, Stine said. I enjoyed providing the Checkers Speech to people who may never have heard of it.

The next day, April 12, the UO chapter of ACS sponsored a lunchtime talk by Jeff Berman, managing director of The Berman Group in Los Angeles and former chief counsel to United States Senator Charles Schumer (D-NY). Berman, whose talk was entitled “The Constitutionality of the Filibuster,” reviewed the history of free debate in the Senate from 1789 until the present, and discussed the arguments the current Republican Senate majority is using in an attempt to impose a new rule barring filibusters of judicial nominees. He noted that the nominees against whom Democrats have used the manuever are “the worst of the worst of the worst” of Bush’s right-wing nominees. “These are scary folks,” he said.

Law professor Garrett Epps  provided this summary of a recent event held by ACS’ University of Oregon chapter for the American Constitution Society blog. Epps is the chapter’s faculty advisor.

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