[JURIST] The long-awaited debate over the fate of the judicial filibuster [Senate backgrounder] began Wednesday in the US Senate. Republican majority leader Senator Bill Frist [official website] opened the floor debate [statement transcript] and accused the Democrats of using the obstructive tactic as an attempt to kill, and defeat President Bushs federal judicial nominees. Republicans are opposed to the use of the procedural hurdle that allows Senators to block an up or down vote for judicial nominees by engaging in extended floor debate. A "super majority", 60 votes or more, is needed to invoke cloture [Senate backgrounder], or otherwise end the filibuster; Republicans want to reduce that to 51 as regards judicial nominees. The Senate is currently deliberating the nomination of Pricilla Owen [DOJ profile], a Texas Supreme Court justice first nominated to the 5th US Circuit Court of Appeals four years ago. Republicans have stated that if Owens nomination is blocked again, they will move to abolish the filibuster. It is unclear whether they have the votes to prevail. Senate Democrats led by minority leader Senator Harry Reid contend that the century-old tool promotes compromise and moderation [Reid floor statement]. Reuters has more.