After years of growing Republican obstruction — legislation blocked, judicial candidates forced to withdraw, presidential nominations left to languish, government agencies rendered powerless by denying them leaders — Senate Democrats say they are finally ready to take action. Barring a last-minute deal, Harry Reid, the majority leader, said he would move to change the Senate rules on Tuesday to ban the filibuster for executive appointments.
This is a relatively modest step toward returning basic governance to the chamber. It does not change the 60-vote requirement that Republicans have made routine for virtually all legislation, perverting the majoritarian vision of the Constitution. It does not ban the filibuster for judicial nominees, though we wish it did because Republicans are still holding up too many federal court candidates.
Nonetheless, Mr. Reid’s move would be an extremely important reassertion of majority rule, finally allowing a president’s nominees to cabinet departments and other agencies to come to a confirmation vote. The president’s right to assemble an executive team without encountering ideological litmus tests from the Senate is fundamental, as history shows. From the Eisenhower to the Ford administrations, there were no filibusters of executive nominees. Over the next 32 years, there were 20.
From the New York Times, March 6, 2005:
he White House’s insistence on choosing only far-right judicial nominees has already damaged the federal courts. Now it threatens to do grave harm to the Senate. If Republicans fulfill their threat to overturn the historic role of the filibuster in order to ram the Bush administration’s nominees through, they will be inviting all-out warfare and perhaps an effective shutdown of Congress. The Republicans are claiming that 51 votes should be enough to win confirmation of the White House’s judicial nominees. This flies in the face of Senate history. Republicans and Democrats should tone down their rhetoric, then sit down and negotiate.
President Bush likes to complain about the divisive atmosphere in Washington. But he has contributed to it mightily by choosing federal judges from the far right of the ideological spectrum. He started his second term with a particularly aggressive move: resubmitting seven nominees whom the Democrats blocked last year by filibuster.
And from the New York Times, April 17, 2003:
Senators opposing Priscilla Owen, a nominee to the United States Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit, are considering a filibuster to head off her confirmation vote. Filibusters are an extreme measure in which a minority of senators block an issue from being voted on. But the system for picking judges, which should be a relatively nonpartisan effort to seat jurists who reflect broad American values, has broken down. Filibustering Judge Owen’s confirmation would send the Bush administration two important messages: the president must stop packing the courts with ideologues, and he must show more respect for the Senate’s role.