Dear Senator Byrd,
I am writing as an admirer of your principled stands on behalf of the independence and authority of the US Senate, and as one who keep a copy of your book Losing America close at hand, and as one who is, like yourself, seldom without his copy of the Constitution of the United States.
I read with interest your statement on the confirmation process for Judge Alito, and I respect your position that the hearings were not conducive to the actual performance of the Senate's duties under the Constitution.
However, sir, I note one principle that was conspicuously absent from your speech. You speak eloquently of what the Framers meant in proscribing that the Senate "consent" to the nominees for Presidential appointments, but you have neglected that they also be granted the opportunity to offer advice.
Back during the Administration of President Reagan, you spoke eloquently, and in almost the same terms as you did recently, about your views on the duties of the Supreme Court, and why you prefer it be a "conservative court." I disagree (a reserved and humble court is far preferrable to an idle one, in my view--it was the reserved judgment of those nine men that created Brown v. BOE but left the greater Civil Rights Act to the Congress), but I respect your position.
However, it seems unimaginable that a one such as you, with your incredible respect for the traditions and duties of the august body in which you serve, is willing to allow the President to run roughshod over the Senate minority to which you remain a member.
Members of your own caucus have been routinely and repeatedly denied a chance to advise the President in the nominations process throughout the term of George W. Bush. They have been treated as a nuisance, rather than as the representatives of the people of their respective states. They are viewed as hindrances to the White House's agenda, rather than as members of a coequal branch.
They are, in short, held powerless.
In a time of war and deficit, of turmoil and uncertainty, it is essential that checks on the Executive remain more than just impotent symbols of a bygone era.
On Tuesday, the Senate will vote to end debate on the nomination of Samuel Alito. You have already indicated that you support Judge Alito's ascention to the highest court in America. But you've also indicated a great desire to see the Senate once again become a deliberative body, capable of holding the President to account.
If the cloture motion succeeds on Tuesday, the Senate minority will be stripped of any strength, and the President and his party will have carte blanche to rule without regard to the wishes of those tens of millions of citizens, myself included, who have voted to keep members of your caucus as our representatives in the Senate.
I respect your privilege to vote as you see fit on the nomination of Judge Alito, but I humbly submit that you likewise should respect the privilege of your fellow Democratic Senators to employ what little power remains in your caucus to attempt to stop the nomination.
I ask this as one who, like yourself, is frightened at the idea of an unaccountable executive. Though you indicate your concerns have been assuaged by your meeting with Judge Alito, many others whom you've worked with and who have earned your respect do not feel the same way.
Circumstances are such that those Senators worried about the prospect of Judge Alito on the highest bench have but one opportunity to air their concerns and act as their consciences dictate. That one chance for them to perform their sworn duty as Senators, the representatives of their constituents' interests, is to hold the floor.
I know you feel a duty to vote on Judge Alito's nomination in the manner you feel best represents the citizens of West Virginia.
Are they not best represented with an empowered Senate in place to defend their rights and liberties?
I do not expect you to vote "no" on the cloture motion, and it is your right not to.
I implore you, then, to offer no vote on cloture, and therefore not add to the total needed to stifle debate.
The only chance the minority in the Senate will ever have to maintain any semblance of power, the only chance to provide a necessary check on the excesses and improprieties of the President, will be if they can demonstrate enough strength to be a consideration in the President's strategy. If he feels the Senate minority is not powerful enough to hold him to account, he will act as his desire dictates, without regard to the rule of law or the highest traditions of the Framers.
For the sake of the Senate, and to help us find America again, I offer this plea: do not vote on the cloture motion.
Jerald M. "J.R." Lentini