Senator Harry Reid, the majority leader, is prepared to move forward with a vote that could severely limit the minority party’s ability to filibuster presidential nominees, possibly as early as this week, Democrats said Tuesday. [...]
But among Democrats there is a strong consensus that Republicans have gone too far in their latest attempt to block White House appointments, by denying Mr. Obama any more judges for what is considered the most important appeals court in the country despite three vacancies.
On Monday, they denied him his third pick in less than a month to the court, the United States Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit. [...]
Support has been building in the Democratic caucus to make the change, which would most likely affect federal judges and executive branch nominees like cabinet members. It would not affect the minority party’s right to filibuster Supreme Court nominees or legislation.
I’m all for this, although I’d rather see the filibuster nuked altogether. I just wish they had done it the day after Obama’s inauguration.
Filibuster supporters may say “well, what about the next time a Republican is in the White House?”
1) If the Democrats can hold on to either the White House or the Senate – which I think is moderately likely, and will be more so over the years as White people become a smaller proportion of the electorate – then it’s not a concern.
2) If the GOP wins both the White House and the Senate majority, then it deserves to see its nominations succeed. That’s democracy for ya.
3) As Scott Lemieux writes, “To see what would happen if the filibuster wasn’t used against judicial nominees, we would have to imagine a scenario…exactly like all of American history between the ratification of the Constitution and the filibuster of Abe Fortas nearly 200 years later. It’s not clear why this was any worse than the current institutional arrangement.”
(Actually, Kennedy has been significantly better than Bork would have been. But that time has passed; no advantage will be gained by Democrats going along with the GOP essentially not wanting to allow any but a tiny number of significant Obama nominations to pass. Because:)
4) If the Democrats don’t nuke the filibuster, the Republicans will just as soon as they control both the White House and the Senate. There is no future time in which the filibuster will be a useful tool for moderating GOP nomination choices.
Jonathan Bernstein has a good summary of the bargaining positions:
Think of this as a bargaining game, with the goal of (most of the majority) Democrats to get a situation where filibusters are used, rarely, against nominees who are thought by the minority as far out of the mainstream. They don’t want an outcome with no filibusters, because they want to preserve their position when they are in the minority; but they also don’t want more frequent filibusters.* As Republicans push farther and farther from the Democratic ideal point, total elimination of the filibuster becomes a more and more appealing second-best end point.