While it has come under fire over the past few years, the filibuster in the U.S. Senate still may be one of the finest examples of freedom of speech in America.
At least that's the case in the way it was used last week.
As the U.S. Senate was preparing to vote on John Brennan as the new director of the Central Intelligence Agency, Sen. Rand Paul, R-Ky., was recognized to speak, and speak he did -- for nearly 13 hours.
Over the decades, the filibuster has morphed into a more procedural tactic, one in which the actual act of filibustering -- taking the floor and holding it for as long as the senator can speak -- is seldom employed. While the members of the majority party in the Senate often bemoan how the minority party can hold up proceedings by merely threatening a filibuster, senators in both parties are reluctant to tinker with the rule much because they know that, at some point, they will be in the minority party and will want the weapon at their disposal.
Why Paul held up the nomination with his old-fasioned filibuster was a concern on both sides of the aisle -- whether the administration believed itcould use drones to kill American citizens that the administration determined to be enemies of the United States. Paul and others wanted a declaration from the president that it was unconstitutional for drones to target and kill a U.S. citizen on U.S. soil who was not engaged in combat against the United States.
On Thursday, Attorney General Eric Holder finally sent Paul a short letter to that effect.
The befuddling thing here is why the administration did not confirm that such drone strikes would be illegal without a senator having to resort to the filibuster.
While Paul voted against Brennan, he ended his filibuster after getting the letter from Holder and Brennan was confimed as CIA director by a 63-34 vote. And the vote had some breaks from party lines, with Sens. Patrick Leahy, D-Vt.; Jeff Merkley, D-Ore., and Bernard Sanders, I-Vt., all liberals, voting against Brennan, while Sens. Marcdo Rubio, R-Fla., and Ron Wyden, D-Ore., who supported Paul's filibuster, voted to confirm.
The filibuster has its detractors who contend it is an antiquated convention that has no place in modern government, but used as Paul used it, it remains an elegant reminder of a powerful right granted to each of us by the Bill of Rights, one that we too often take for granted.
-- The Albany Herald Editorial Board