Thursday, November 21, 2013

Harry Reid Goes Nuclear

Today, Senate Democrats passed a rule in the Senate curtailing the use of the filibuster for cabinet nominees and non-Supreme Court judicial appointees. While long overdue and aside from whatever credence one wants to give to changing the “norms” of an institution like the U.S. Senate, the one argument that kept (and keeps) some from supporting this long overdue action is the idea that Republicans will one day again control both the White House and the Senate and Democrats will rue the day they removed a tool they might want to stop a radical appointee to head, say the Environmental Protection Agency or be appointed to the D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals.

To them I say, the existence of the filibuster did little to stop such appointments in the past. John Ashcroft, who famously draped “Lady Liberty” to cover an exposed breast was confirmed and served as U.S. Attorney General for four years. Other ignoble names from the past, from James Watt to Janice Rogers Brown, made it through the confirmation process even though their politics were well to the right of mainstream thought. Moreover, the idea that Republicans would not change the filibuster rules in the future, regardless, always struck me as specious. After all, they used reconciliation to get massive tax cuts through and threatened to do what Reid did today just eight years ago.

The judiciary, in particular, tends to find its balance because the number of appointees by Presidents of each party hovers close to par over time. That the Democrats have held the White House for more time than Republicans over the last 20 years should result in a judiciary that tilts more to the left and when vacancies arise, regardless of the court, nominees, barring some disqualifying justification, should be given an up or down vote. Over the long run, a Patricia Owen will be balanced out by a Patricia Millett. It is part of the genius of the Constitution Republicans claim to so revere that this occurs.

Of course, none of this took place in a vacuum. As others have noted, the level of GOP obstruction under Obama has been unprecedented. Nearly half (46%) of all judicial appointment filibusters since 1968 have occurred during his presidency[1] and never-before actions, such as the filibustering of multiple cabinet appointees (Defense, Labor, EPA, and CIA) occurred this year alone. That it took Senator Reid this long to finally “push the button” speaks for more loudly about his respect for the Senate as an institution than his eagerness to c


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