Remarks by Senator Harry Reid
Preserving Checks and Balances
U.S. Capitol Steps
Tuesday, March 15, 2005
On a late September day in 1787, the Constitutional Convention finished its work. As Benjamin Franklin walked down the steps of Independence Hall, a Philadelphia woman named Elizabeth Powell stopped him and asked, “Well, Doctor, what have we got: a republic or a monarchy?”
He responded, “A republic. If you can keep it.”
For more than two centuries, we have kept our republic because Americans have understood that our liberty is protected by our laws and by a government of limited powers.
Our Constitution provides for checks and balances so that no one person in power – so that no one political party – can hold total control over the course of our nation.
But now, in order to break down the separation of powers and ram through their appointees to the judicial branch, President Bush and the Republican leadership want to eliminate a two-hundred-year-old American rule saying that every member of the Senate can rise to say their piece and speak on behalf of the people that sent them here.
The fact is that this President has a better record of having his judicial nominees approved than any President in the past twenty-five years. Only ten of 214 nominations have been turned down.
So it is clear that this attempt to strip away these important checks and balances is not about judges. It is about the desire for absolute power.
But our nation’s basic rules are there for the moments when the eyes of the powerful grow large and hungry; when their willfulness makes them determined to do whatever it takes to win, and prevail at whatever the cost.
Presidents and parties have grown drunk with power before. Two Presidents of my own party – Thomas Jefferson and Franklin Roosevelt – began their second terms of office with majorities in Congress and then tried to change the rules governing judges so that they could stack the court with those who would do their bidding. They were wrong to try to change our basic American rules – and Americans, and Senators of both parties, stood up to tell them so.
Today, another attempt is being considered to rewrite the rules so that those in power can get their way.
It would mean that the U.S. Senate becomes merely a rubber stamp for the Executive Branch.
It would mean that one political party – be it Republicans today or Democrats tomorrow – gets to have all the say.
It would mean that one man, sitting in the White House, has the practical ability to personally hand out lifetime jobs to judges whose rulings can last forever.
That’s not how America works.
Here, in America, the people rule – and all the people have a voice.
We pledge allegiance to “one nation, under God, with liberty and justice for all.” Not liberty and justice for whoever may be in the majority of the moment. Liberty and justice for all. In America, everyone gets their say and their due.
Today, we say to the American people: if you believe in liberty and in limited government, set aside your partisan views and oppose this arrogant abuse of power.
Our freedom as a people was purchased by soldiers and Senators, by those who fell for our country and those who rose to speak for it, even when they stood alone.
The courage of patriots has given us a republic. Now, it is our task – and our test – to show that we can keep it.