Sixty in the Senate

Tuesday, 28 April 2009

Sen. Arlen Specter, formerly of the GOP, has switched parties, and the Democrats will have a 60 seat majority once Al Franken of Minnesota is seated, probably next month (his opponent, Norm Coleman, continues to drag out his inevitable defeat in the courts). Once the Democrats reach the 60 vote non-filibuster threshold, here are some of the things I'd like to see them do immediately.

  1. Ratify the resolution to join the International Criminal Court. As the Bush administration so aptly demonstrated, government cannot always be trusted to obey international law or to prosecute their own citizens--including government leaders--who violate those laws. The ICC guarantees that citizens whose basic human rights are violated anywhere in the world have access to justice.
  2. It's too late to join Kyoto, but push for and ratify the next generation treaty to protect the environment. Discussions are ongoing, and it is vital for the U.S., one of the world's biggest polluters and consumers of energy, to take a leading role in finding solutions to the problems that affect inhabitants of all countries.
  3. Pass immigration reform, including the DREAM Act and a path to citizenship for all those currently in the U.S. who have no felony convictions. Current draconian laws split families apart and fail to reward those who are willing to work hard to make a better life for themselves and their families (i.e., the American dream).
  4. Pass a federal law prohibiting discrimination at the federal level on the basis of sexual orientation. Among other things, this law would require states to recognize legal marriages performed in other states, a fulfillment of the Full Faith and Credit Clause of the U.S. Constitution, while leaving it up to states, for the moment, to do the right thing in regard to marriage and civil union policies within their own borders.
  5. Do away with the military's "Don't ask, don't tell" policy, and replace it with a policy that is nondiscriminatory. The policy doesn't work, and it has demonstrably weakened the U.S. military, for example, by expelling trained linguists and other valuable people with particularly important skills, just because they happen to be gay.
  6. Pass meaningful, rational limits on the ownership of firearms and other weapons, including the prohibition against owning assault rifles. Even Ronald Reagan was in favor of meaningful limits on gun ownership, but the far right fanatics who now make up the NRA have held the country hostage to their radical policy goals. Now's the time to put the NRA in our sights.
  7. Pass a law that criminalizes the suppression of another person's civil rights, especially the right of free speech (frequently abused during the Bush administration). When in doubt, law enforcement officials should err on the side of allowing rather than prohibiting free speech.
  8. Urge as many of the older liberal Supreme Court justices to retire as possible. Yes, liberal justices, so that we can get new blood on the court that will be entrenched for future decades. If we can get Scalia or Thomas to retire as well, so much the better!

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