Filibuster Goes Partial Boom

Corey Robin sums it up:

Today, the United States Senate voted to eliminate the filibuster for most presidential nominees. That decision does not apply to legislation or Supreme Court nominees. [...]

But what does the vote actually mean? As Phil Klinkner explained to me, and as this old Washington Post piece confirms, before this vote, senators representing a mere 11% of the population could block all presidential appointments and all legislation.

From now on, senators representing a mere 17% of the population can block most presidential appointments; senators representing 11% can still block all legislation and all Supreme Court nominees.

It’s no secret that I consider this good news. Obama won two elections; he gets to have his nominees voted on.

Since the House is blocking all Democratic legislation, the continuing existence of the filibuster for legislation won’t matter anytime soon. (And as soon as it matters, it’ll be nuked as well). But why retain the filibuster for Supreme Court justices? It’s not because Democrats believe they’ll be able to filibuster GOP Supreme Court nominees – it’s very clear that Republicans won’t allow that. From today’s Washington Post:

Sen. Charles E. Grassley (Iowa), the top Republican on the Senate Judiciary Committee, warned Democrats against the rule change on Wednesday, saying that if the GOP reclaimed the Senate majority, Republicans would further alter the rules to include Supreme Court nominees, so that Democrats could not filibuster a Republican pick for the nation’s highest court.

For that matter, if the Republicans filibuster an Obama Supreme Court nominee, the Democrats will just use “the nuclear option” – as long as that nominee is acceptable to the five most right-wing Democratic Senators.

And that is, I suspect, part of why the filibuster was retained for SCOTUS nominees – to make it harder for liberal Democrats to pressure Obama to nominate a liberal to the Supreme Court.

More analysis of today’s news:

Nine reasons the filibuster change is a huge deal

The rise of the filibuster and the death of the filibuster can be traced to the same fundamental cause: Party polarization. Before the two parties became reasonably unified and disciplined ideological combatants, filibusters were rarely used as a tactic of inter-party warfare because each political party had both members who supported and opposed the bills in question. As that era waned, the filibuster became constant because parties could agree on what to oppose. But that’s also why the filibuster’s days were (and are) numbered: The majority party agrees on what to support, and continual filibusters against those items increase the majority party’s anger at the filibuster itself. [...]

Today, the political system changed its rules to work more smoothly in an age of sharply polarized parties. If American politics is to avoid collapsing into complete dysfunction in the years to come, more changes like this one will likely be needed.

Three More Reforms That Will Still Be Needed To Prevent Republican Obstruction In The Senate.

The three are: “Blue slips,” filibusters on legislation, and pointless procedural delays.

Everything you need to know about Thursday’s filibuster change

More Scalias and Thomases Please – Ta-Nehisi Coates

Elections don’t always have consequences, but they should. You can’t judge a party’s agenda if they don’t get a chance to actually implement. Judicial and executive appointments are indispensable to that endeavor. If you don’t want to even have the experiment, if you don’t like being in the minority, win the damn election—which is another way of saying, make the case to the American people.

Patrick Caldwell:

The real reason Democrats were so eager to confirm Obama’s DC Circuit nominees, and Republicans were so desperate to block them, is that the court’s current conservative majority has repeatedly blocked the president’s agenda. Since most of the federal bureaucracy resides in DC, the DC Circuit is tasked with assessing the constitutionality of federal rules and regulations. Conservatives on the court have neutered much of Dodd-Frank, the post-recession financial reform bill that was meant to keep banks in check. The court also overturned Obama’s ability to appoint staff while Congress is out of town and struck down state environmental rules that would have regulated emissions from other states.

Rich Lowry Is Mad That Democrats Took His Filibuster Advice From 2005

One huge effect of filibuster reform: Obama can actually fire people

…the constant use of the filibuster against political appointments made it extraordinarily difficult for the White House to fire anyone because they didn’t know whether they’d be able to appoint a replacement — or, if they could appoint a replacement, who Republicans would actually accept. And the more political controversy there was around an issue the more dangerous a personnel change became.

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10 Responses to Filibuster Goes Partial Boom

  1. 1
    RonF says:

    As majority leader, I intend to run the Senate with respect for the rules and for the minority rights the rules protect. The Senate was not established to be efficient. Sometimes the rules get in the way of efficiency. The Senate was established to make sure that minorities are protected. Majorities can always protect themselves, but minorities cannot. That is what the Senate is all about. For more than 200 years, the rules of the Senate have protected the American people, and rightfully so. The need to muster 60 votes in order to terminate Senate debate naturally frustrates the majority and oftentimes the minority. I am sure it will frustrate me when I assume the office of majority leader in a few weeks. But I recognize this requirement is a tool that serves the long-term interest of the Senate and the American people and our country.

    Senator Harry Reid, Congressional Record, S.11591, 12/8/06

  2. 2
    RonF says:

    I’d like to ask “Where were you when you heard that President Kennedy was shot”, but I’m afraid that on this blog I’m the only person who would not answer “I wasn’t born yet”.

    Anyone who was over the age of 6 at that time will most likely be able to answer that question immediately.

  3. 3
    Eytan Zweig says:

    RonF – That was seven years ago (The Reid quote, not the JFK assassination). I don’t think it’s unreasonable for a politician to change his mind on an issue based on seven years of experience. Do you?

  4. 4
    Ampersand says:

    Ron, did you mean to post the JFK comment in the open thread?

    And regarding the Reid quote, that is funny. (As are similar quotes from Republicans who, in the past, wanted to get rid of the filibuster). But do you think it’s meaningful in any way?

  5. 5
    JutGory says:

    Eytan Zweig:

    I don’t think it’s unreasonable for a politician to change his mind on an issue based on seven years of experience. Do you?

    Be fair. Reid may act like he only has 7 years of experience, but he has been in the Senate since 1987. He should have known how the Rules worked by 2006.


  6. 6
    Robert says:

    If you like the Senate rules that were in place when you were first elected, you can keep them.

  7. 7
    Denise says:

    Be fair. Reid may act like he only has 7 years of experience, but he has been in the Senate since 1987. He should have known how the Rules worked by 2006.

    The rules “worked” differently. In 1987, it wasn’t the practice to filibuster the President’s judicial appointments as a matter of course.

  8. 8
    RonF says:

    Perhaps in 1987 it wasn’t the practice to nominate ideologues to the court system.

  9. 9
    RonF says:

    Oh, for sure there’s no shortage of mendacity on both sides. But I think it’s fair to highlight the previous commitments of the side that changed the rules while pretending they’re doing it based on high-minded democratic principles rather than political expediency.

  10. RonF:

    Perhaps in 1987 it wasn’t the practice to nominate ideologues to the court system.

    I just have to point out that 1987 was the year Robert Bork was nominated to the Supreme Court and people on the left—and some on the right, if I remember correctly—certainly considered him an ideologue, but I don’t remember that his nomination was filibustered.