While Obama Remakes the Courts, Harry Reid Wants to Remake the Senate
by Amy Payne, Heritage Foundation, November 21, 2013
Every few months, it seems, Harry Reid (D-NV) threatens to upend the Senate so that he can push something through without following the rules.
This time, it’s the President’s judicial nominees.
President Obama is already well on his way to remaking federal courts in the liberal image, but Reid insists this isn’t happening fast enough. The Senate Majority Leader is threatening again that he will break Senate rules to change the rules—so he can do anything he wants with the bare minimum number of votes (51).
This would mean effectively ending the use of the filibuster, Senators’ ability to speak at length against measures they oppose. That would be bad news, as this Senator explained:
Everyone in this chamber knows that if the majority chooses to end the filibuster—if they choose to change the rules and put an end to democratic debate—then the fighting and the bitterness and the gridlock will only get worse.
That Senator was Barack Obama, in 2005, when his party was in the Senate minority.
But when you’re on top—as the Democrats are now in the Senate—the filibuster looks different. It looks like a speed bump. In fact, the filibuster actually protects the rights of all Senators—and of the American people they represent.
There’s a reason the Senate confirms nominees for judicial appointments and other appointed positions. As Heritage legal analyst Elizabeth Slattery wrote yesterday:
The Constitution divides the power of appointing judges (and certain other executive branch officials) between the President and the Senate. The President may have a right to nominate whomever he chooses, but the Senate need not rubber-stamp those nominations. Indeed, for those given lifetime appointments (such as federal judges), the need for careful consideration is essential. The proposed rules change would constrain Senators’ ability to deliberate on nominations through the vital debate function as long as one party retained a bare majority.
President Obama is already far outpacing President George W. Bush in judicial confirmations for his nominees during his second term. And as Slattery and Heritage’s Hans von Spakovsky have pointed out, the latest push is focused on packing a crucial circuit court that often serves as a stepping stone toward the Supreme Court.
If longstanding Senate rules are broken and changed, the majority party—whichever it happens to be—would have unprecedented power. Right now, Harry Reid wants that power.
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