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Last Updated: Tuesday, 24 May, 2005, 07:49 GMT 08:49 UK
US Senate deal prevents showdown
The Capitol building, Washington DC
The tradition of the filibuster is almost as old as the Senate itself
A small group of US Senators has reached a last-minute deal to avoid a major political showdown in Congress.

Democrats and Republicans have been at odds over President George W Bush's judicial nominations.

The deal struck by 14 senators from both sides means at least one of the nominees - Texas judge Priscilla Owen - is likely to be approved on Tuesday.

It also averts a threat to limit use of the filibuster, which allows senators to block debate by talking non-stop.

"Armageddon has been avoided," said New York state Democrat Senator Charles Schumer.

"The Senate won and the country won," said John McCain, Republican Senator for Arizona and another of the 14.

Talking it out

Although dozens of President Bush's judicial nominees for the federal courts have been approved by the Senate, several are still awaiting confirmation votes.

The judges have the support of the Republicans, but they have been criticised for being too right-wing by Democrats.

Republicans have 55 of the 100 seats in the Senate, so Democrats have been threatening to use the filibuster - which only a three-fifths majority can break - for the candidates they dislike the most.

Each signatory must use his or her own discretion and judgement in determining whether extraordinary circumstances exist
'Memorandum of understanding'

Republicans have been accusing Democrats of behaving in an unconstitutional manner by advocating the tactic, and threatened to abolish the rule for judicial nominations.

Democrats - and some critics on the Republican side - have pointed out that the same tactic was used against former President Bill Clinton's nominees.

They also point out that there is little difference between the ratio of approvals to blocked nominations under President Bush and that of the Clinton administration.

If the Republican side had gone ahead, in a plan which would have used the vote of Vice-President Dick Cheney to declare the filibuster unconstitutional, the upshot could have been to freeze Senate business altogether.

Republicans originally called this the "nuclear option", before switching to the term "constitutional option".

Up-or-down vote

The deal struck on Monday means that most of the judges will be given a simple majority vote.

Senator John McCain (left)
John McCain led the Republican moderates to the deal

In practice, that means three of the contentious candidates will get votes, with Ms Owen first up on Tuesday.

Also due for early confirmation are Janice Rogers Brown and William Pryor.

But both sides agreed to reserve the right to filibuster in extraordinary circumstances.

"Each signatory must use his or her own discretion and judgement in determining whether the circumstances exist," the 14 senators' agreed statement said.

The statement also made an explicit call for President Bush to consult more with both parties when putting forward candidates for the federal bench.

The US Constitution calls for the "advice and consent" of senators for the president's nominees.

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